Since the death of Kelly Thomas in 2011, Fullerton has changed how it deals with its homeless population.
Out of the ashes of that terrible incident came the cooperation of Fullerton Police Department’s Homeless Liaison Unit and nonprofit Coast to Coast Foundation.
Since 2012, Coast to Coast Foundation has been working alongside Fullerton Police Department’s Homeless Liaison Unit to help Fullerton’s homeless population.
Coast to Coast Foundation is a nonprofit that was founded in 2009 by Marie Avena to help the homeless in Orange County, providing outreach in several cities such as Fullerton, Tustin, Santa Ana, Huntington Beach and Corona.
The Fullerton College Hornet went out with Coast to Coast Foundation and FPD’s Homeless Liaison Unit officers Cpl. Jim Talbot, Cpl. Ginny Johnson and Cpl. Dan Heying on their Thursday outreach.
The group arrived at Brea Dam Park in the morning to check up on Mary Dawn, a woman currently living out of her car with two dogs and a duck keeping her company.
Jazz Quijano, community liaison coordinator, spoke with Dawn to make sure she was ok, joked with her, asked how her car was running and brought her forms to fill out for further resources.
The foundation goes beyond just outreach and actually forms friendships with the homeless which even helps bridge the divide with the police department as Dawn got excited when her favorite police officer showed up.
“There’s my guy, now that’s a man anybody can learn from, I’m telling you.” Dawn said, laughing while referring to Cpl. Dan Heying, “If you need to learn anything you go talk to Officer Dan because he’s the man.”
Cpl. Heying even went out of his way to purchase wet wipes for Dawn as he knows that she likes to use them to clean up, which he gave Cpl. Talbot to hand to Dawn so that Talbot’s relationship would improve with Dawn as well.
“When it’s enforcement time, they usually don’t like us but when it’s resource time and we’re offering things, they typically like us.” Cpl. Heying said, “it depends on the person.”
“Our main goal is to try and get them into resources, try to get them the help they need, point them in the right direction,” Cpl. Heying said, “and then when that doesn’t work because of their choices, because they choose not to, or they choose to maintain their drug and alcohol lifestyle then enforcement comes into play.”
Coast to Coast Foundation’s goal is to form relationships, friendships almost so that they can form a dialogue with the homeless so they know how they can help the person or even the family.
The nonprofit was founded by Marie Avena, who ironically is a realtor outside of Coast to Coast Foundation. She works full-time seven days a week, five days at her job, and two days on Coast to Coast.
“All I care about is treat them with dignity, respect, give them the space to have conversation with you and that’s all we do.” Avena said, “Let’s figure out what’s going on over there, can we make a difference? I don’t know, we’ll find out.”
Coast to Coast Foundation does all they can for the homeless, from handing out food and clothes, to connecting them with the resources they need all the way to relocating them if relocation will result in them having housing. They have relocated people as far as Hawaii, Canada, Argentina and even Lebanon.
They do not pressure people to get help, and can have someone finally decide to get help after speaking with them 100’s of times or also get cold feet after making the decision to get help but even then sometimes the resources don’t fit the person.
“It’s like a pair of shoes, you try them on, they look great, and then they just hurt.” Avena said, “so guess what, you move on until you find the right pair.”
Their volunteers are a warm, funny group of people who each have their own story to tell.
Claudia Hamano, former Mulberry Elementary School Principal, started volunteering in December through the community website nextdoor.com when she saw a post on homeless outreach “and I thought oh my god well I’m going to go to the meeting and see what that’s about.” Hamano said.
“It was just the most intense and incredibly moving thing I’ve done, to see Jazz and the other volunteers interact with the homeless and I just thought I have to be a part of this.” Hamano said, “I think the services are important but what’s even more important to me is establishing rapport with the homeless and letting them know that somebody out there cares, someone recognizes their humanity and there’s a group of people that wants to make a difference for them when they’re ready.”
“I just want those of who aren’t homeless to see these people as human beings, to humanize this process, you don’t choose mental illness, you don’t choose addiction.” Hamano said, “Maybe your stupid one day and you do heroine, then your hooked. You can’t grind them in the dirt for making mistakes. We all make mistakes.”
She also invites anybody to attend Coast to Coast’s casino night fundraiser.
Coast to Coast Foundation invites anybody who wants to make a difference in the lives of the homeless to volunteer in one of their many cities from Fullerton, Tustin, Santa Ana, Huntington Beach, Anaheim, Corona and South County. You could even volunteer part-time or volunteer for service learning hours, by heading to the make a difference link down below.