OCEANSIDE — Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home order in March, a handful of people have taken on the task of making sure the region’s homeless residents are staying fed, clean and warm.
Several organizations in the region that serve the homeless recognize the population needs help now more than ever. With certain public utilities and resources closed, the homeless have nowhere to go for day shelter like the library, and nowhere to use the bathroom. Increased food insecurity also became a concern as well.
Since March, the Oceanside Kitchen Collaborative (OKC) has been working to provide up to 600 meals per day. The organization has received thousands of pounds of donated food from nearby restaurants and has also received funds from a grant through the city.
That grant money from the city was about to expire but OKC was able to secure funding up until the end of June. Vanessa Graziano, a local activist for the homeless who also helps to deliver food for the OKC program, said she would like to see the city fund the program into July or August to give nonprofits like her Oceanside Homeless Resource Fair organization time to raise money for such a program.
Graziano runs the Oceanside Homeless Resource Fair, which prior to COVID-19 was a once-a-month program that gave homeless people access to haircuts, food, sanitation, clothes, and other resources.
The fair has been postponed for now due to the pandemic, but Graziano has remained busy helping the homeless in other ways.
Since November, Graziano has helped several families get off the streets and into housing. Since the start of the pandemic, she has helped homeless people get into motels for a few nights a week.
Graziano said that people need to want help to successfully get help, but it takes time for some to come around. She said many need at least a week or so rest before they can start the process of integrating back into the community.
Graziano was homeless for six months at one time and struggled with meth addiction for years.
“People will tell me, ‘Well you don’t understand,’ but the thing is I do,” she said. “I lived it. It takes time.”
Graziano has been helping OKC by delivering approximately 145 of their meals each day to five locations with a friend. She said she and her friend have donated 12,000 meals in the last three months.
For Graziano, it has been hard watching people on the streets struggling to survive with so many resources shut down.
“They depend on us,” she said.
Other organizations like Brother Benno’s have maintained some of its services, including a sack lunch distribution Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
The organization has also maintained its mail service and its food box and bag distribution to guests, and has implemented a drive-through food bag distribution on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in partnership with Feeding San Diego.
Brother Benno’s dine-in hot breakfast/brunch, thrift store, clothing room, rental and utility assistance, showers, laundry and haircut programs are unavailable until further notice.
The Duwara Consciousness Foundation, a nonprofit based in Oceanside, is another organization that has ramped up its services during the pandemic.
The nonprofit has a goal of serving others in three steps: first, by providing access to nutritious vegetarian food to those in need; second, by providing access to hygiene services like showers and laundry to those in need; and third, by creating a sanctuary community in San Diego County that offers transitional housing, food, showers, friendly atmosphere and job training.
The Duwara Consciousness Foundation is currently executing its first step through a mobile food trailer that founding couple Davinder Singh and Harisimran Kaur take to San Diego and its second step through a mobile shower trailer program that the couple is about to begin.
Before the pandemic, the food trailer went to the East Village in San Diego twice a week. Once the pandemic struck and other services began to close, the organization ramped up its food truck services to six days a week, Monday through Saturday.
The food truck makes completely plant-based burritos, Singh said. Some have the option of adding sour cream to their burrito.
Other groups even drive to pick up burritos to distribute in other cities in the county.
The third step is a land project that would serve as a conduit to permanent housing for homeless residents. The more than 20 acres of land purchased in the county would be equipped with transitional micro-housing and offer job training throughout the property.
“The land project has always been since day one our No. 1 priority,” Singh said. “I know it’s going to happen.”
Graziano also wants to see a “tiny village,” as she calls it, for the homeless to be able to live and reestablish themselves that will help to end unsheltered homelessness in North County. Additionally, she wants to see a day center where homeless people can take classes, use the internet and connect with mental health and drug rehabilitation resources.