By Mimi Pollack
San Diego has become a magnet for homeless people while shelters and government agencies struggle to keep up and provide help.
Not only that, there are different kinds of homeless, such as generational homeless, those who want to be on the streets for one reason or another, those with drug or alcohol related problems, and the working homeless, those who live in their cars with limited resources. For the latter, Dreams for Change is there to help.
Teresa Smith began Dreams for Change, a nonprofit organization, in May 2009 to support homeless and low-income people who were not being served by traditional service providers and government programs.
Dreams for Change advocates an action plan that places emphasis on finding permanent housing, employment, training, and emergency support.
They also started the Safe Parking Program for people who live out of their cars, so they would have a safe place to park at night. To date, Dreams for Change has helped around 3,500 people.
Dreams for Change has had a success rate oscillating between 60 and 70 percent.
Currently, Dreams for Change has two sites for their Safe Parking Program, the parking lot of Jewish Family Service on Balboa Avenue and The New Life Assembly Church on 28th Street.
Families and individuals can park at these sites overnight, as long as they meet requirements which include, being clean and sober a minimum of 24 hours and agreeing to complete various applications, undergo an intake assessment to determine qualifying benefits, and moving from their vehicle to more stable or permanent housing.
The last one is not easy as there is a shortage of affordable housing in San Diego and finding suitable housing can be a challenge. There are also parking lot rules that participants must be willing to follow.
Smith oversees the various programs that Dreams for Change now has to offer, including Safe Parking,Thrive San Diego, Eat Better Today, Achieving Financial Independence, and a program that works with seniors.
She also has to find ways to fund all these programs, relying on fundraisers, donations, and writing grants.
One partnership that has worked well is the one struck with the Jewish Family Service, which helps manage one of the parking lots.
In October 2016, Dreams for Change approached Jewish Family Service, and since then, they have worked and grown together to provide better services for their beneficiaries.
The Safe Park location at the Jewish Family Service’s parking lot operates from 6 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. on weekdays, and through 7 a.m. on weekends.
The Safe Parking lot is contained in the fenced parking lot between the Jewish Family Service’s buildings and provides parking spaces for 20 to 30 cars.
In addition to the lot, Jewish Family Service is now providing food from its Corner Market store, which receives food donations from Jewish Family Service, Feeding San Diego, and Starbucks.
This lot also features portable toilets, a sink, access to an indoor shower.
The program is self-contained and operates almost completely outdoors, with the exception of case management sessions that the nonprofit now conducts inside rooms provided by Jewish Family Service.
Guillermo Haro Miramontes, lead case manager for Dreams for Change, usually walks around greeting everyone in the lot by name.
Haro Miramontes, who is completely bilingual, often speaks to people of many different backgrounds, including Latinos, to help build rapport and helping their people find jobs and housing.
Most people at the lots stay between three and six months or until they are able to stabilize.