Non-profit provides more than just housing for homeless families

- Tucked away in the city of Pleasant Hill sits the Garden Parks Apartments.  To the naked eye they may seem very ordinary, but inside something remarkable is happening.  

"Garden Parks Apartments is the gold standard for how to end homelessness for highly vulnerable individuals, " said Deanne Pearn the Executive Director of Contra Costa Interfaith Housing.  

Her non-profit turned the GPA into permanent housing for families that faced chronic homelessness and disabilities some 15 years ago.  27 families, and 82 people call it home now, like 28 year old mother of two Lori Goss who has multiple sclerosis.  

"Honestly there are no words to really describe how grateful I am.  There's even tears coming to my eyes right now," said Goss.  

This is Lori's first home.  But, along with that subsidized housing comes so much more.  In their quad is a community hall where five full-time staffers work including mental health professionals and a youth enrichment coordinator.  If life questions or conflict arise they are right there to help.   Teen clubs, tutoring and reading time are available.  These supportive services are vital to not only lifting those in need, but ending a new generation of poverty and homelessness.  

"It's critical, because things do go at the moment.  We've got families that have tremendous trauma history and needs.  And maybe at the moment are stressed about something that can be resolved if you have somebody here that understands how people respond to trauma," said Beth Limberg the GPA's Family Service Manager.  

Goss added, "My children now have a chance to focus on school and who they are trying to become rather than where am I going to sleep tonight … what am I going to eat tomorrow.  Those are not my concerns anymore."  

Creating community within has become a huge self-esteem builder at Garden Parks.  96% of those that have left the apartments have become self-sufficient.  It's a long-term approach to a problem that is plaguing the Bay Area, but it requires patience and funding.  

"We have the model.  The next task is to take it to scale and that's not that hard.  We know how to do it. There's a huge need in the community.  We can continue to build more Garden Parks Apartments and serve more families and turn things around for our community," said Deanne Pearn. 

For Lori Goss it means she can stop worrying about the future of her children.  "It means a lot and more importantly it means that my kids won't have to go through what I went through as a child.  That's not going to happen."

Lori had lost custody of her oldest daughter because of her housing and medical issues, but after a year and a half at GPA the courts have now agreed that she has a stable lifestyle, and her 6 year old  is coming home this week.  

The numbers are telling. After 10,000 case-worker hours at GPA 87% of the resident saw an increase in their annual income and 100% of the kids that participate in their after-school programs not only improved academically, but graduated to the next grade.  The residents can stay as long as they need to, but three to four families move out each year as they become self-sufficient giving new families a chance to join the community.   It takes time, but GPA is certainly making a difference.

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