Over the course of this past year there were more than 12,700 homeless people in Orange County. There are 4,300 homeless people on any given night and 40 percent of them are unsheltered.
Mercy House is a transitional unit and homeless shelter located in Santa Ana, Calif. where they assist individuals and families by giving them a place to stay at night and helping them find a home for the future.
Mercy House opened in 1988 and now has four transitional programs and two permanent housing units, one in Fullerton and one in Santa Ana. A transitional program that will be opening soon is the family program.
The seasonal family program begins Dec. 2, 2013. This program is not set at one location, like the typical armories, but changes each night depending on which church will host them.
“It’s an emergency shelter program for families that have dependent children,” said Luis Borroel, director of family programming for the past four years. “Any families that show up at the armories with children under 17 get directed to additional shelter for just families.”
Once the family is at the shelter for the night, they meet with a housing track coordinator who then goes through the program handbook with them. This way the family knows what to expect.
After the family has settled in, the case manager works with the family to find a more suitable housing situation that will be more of a stable residence.
“We work with different transitional shelters in the community,” said Borroel. “ We also have funds for helping a family get into an apartment and pay their first and last months rent and whatever other months when help is needed.”
Since this program is mobile, the families do their day-to-day activities and are expected to meet around 6 p.m., for check in. After check-in, the children do arts and crafts and get help with their homework from the onsite tutors.
“We usually have two to four volunteers a night,” said Borroel. “They do activities with the kids.”
Dinner is served at 7:30 p.m. and is followed by family meetings with case managers in order to discuss their living situation. Meetings are concluded by 10 p.m. and then it is lights out.
The staff members are on-site at all times and lights are on by 6:30 a.m. The families are then given a few hours to gather their belongings and are out of Mercy House by 8:30 a.m. so that the staff workers are able to clean up before the families come back in the evening.
According to Borroel, Mercy House tries to house 20-25 families each night and although the season starts out slow, it usually picks up after a few weeks.
“We work in conjunction with the armory,” said Borroel. “It goes from the beginning of December until about the end of March.”
Future plans for the family program include getting a stationary location and having it open year-round. This is a county-wide issue because there aren’t enough shelters to house all of those who are homeless in Orange County.
If you’re looking to give a little bit this holiday season, there are opportunities to do so with gift ideas such as decorated christmas trees or candy-filled socks to give to the individuals at the armory. There are also internship opportunities available for students. More information can be found on their website at www.mercyhouse.net