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Homeless lesson: Kids & boxes
May 21 event helps raise awareness
A previous Kids in the Box event included this gingerbread house creation.
Some design castles. Others make gingerbread houses or house boats.

But whatever homes they fashion out of boxes to spend the night sleeping in, the kids involved all end up being surprised that the homeless aren’t scruffy people pushing shopping carts around town.

“It is a real eye opener for them,” noted HOPE Family Shelters Executive Director Dave Thompson. “They find out the homeless families are just like their families except that they have fallen on hard times.”

At least two dozen youth have signed up so far for this year’s Kids in a Box event  being conducted overnight starting on Friday, May 21, on the grounds of the Raymus House on South Union Road. Participating youth spend the night in cardboard boxes that they bring with them and decorate as they desire. They also collect pledges. Last year the event raised more than $3,200.

Even though times are tough financially for the 20-year non-profit, Thompson said the main goal isn’t to raise money but to raise awareness.

“There are many people who don’t realize we have homeless shelters in town,” Thompson noted.

The participating youth have a chance to co-mingle with the shelter residents and share dinner.

Thompson said almost every time the youth are surprised that the homeless are just like them.

“There have been cases where the kids in the shelter go to the same school and even the same class as some of the participants (in the Kids in a Box program),” Thompson said. “They didn’t realize they were even homeless.”

If you would like to participate you can call HOPE Family Shelter at 824-0658 for more information.

 HOPE Ministries turns 20 this year. The non-profit organization was born in the middle of the recession that followed the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the winding down of the aerospace industry, and massive closure of military bases in California. HOPE Ministries now struggles in the midst of the Great Recession to meet a need that has increased proportionately with Manteca’s record post World War II unemployment rate of 15 percent.

Since the doors of their first shelter opened in 1992 Hope Shelters have assisted more than 2,000 families get back on their feet.

The shelter’s success rate – people who basically end up being able to provide their own shelter – is just above 60 percent. It is a high rate among shelters. Thompson, who retired from the Manteca Police force nine years ago, credits counseling services that are provided.

The counseling services address everything from money management to life choices. Unfortunately, budget considerations may force an elimination of those counseling services in the coming months.

The demand for the three shelters the organization operates has never been higher.

It is the norm for two to three calls to be on the answering machine when he gets to work each day from people desperate for shelter.

The original shelter that opened 18 years ago has eight units for homeless families. Located at Sequoia and Yosemite Avenues in what originally was the city’s first hospital built following the great Flu Epidemic of 1918 doesn’t stick out as a shelter.

Twenty-five percent of the homeless passing through HOPE Shelters are employed. Some financial event – including foreclosures on rental properties in the current climate – puts them out on the street. They can afford rent but not the deposit.

Others are helped to get back on their feet with assistance in getting a job. Due to the success HOPE has had with helping homeless families get their finances in order, a number of apartment complexes in Manteca have a working relationship with the non-profit and have no problem taking renters who’ve been at HOPE shelter.

To make it work, the shelter tires to provide as much as the basics they can from food and everyday items such as toilet paper and personal hygiene products. They rely heavily on individuals to donate such items.

HOPE Ministries also operates the nine-unit Raymus House on Union Road for single moms and their children as well as seven transitional units where families can stay for two years as they rebuild their lives.

Two families have already moved out of the transitional shelter months ahead of the two-year limit.

Staff and service cutbacks have allowed the shelter to get by with a $160,000 budget - $40,000 less than last year’s amount. HOPE no longer receives state money and is having their federal assistance pared back $$26,000 to $22,000.

For more information or to help with donations of money or items, call 824-0658.