A united front: How one California city is tackling its part of homelessness   

Guests wait for the Folsom winter shelter intake center to open Monday, March 6, 2023. Photograph by Cristian Gonzalez

By Cristian Gonzalez

Folsom is known as an upper-middle class suburb with great schools and beautiful homes, but it too shows symptoms of the countywide homelessness crisis.

According to the most recent Point-in-Time Count by Sacramento Steps Forward, homelessness in the county has risen by 67% since 2019. About 20 of the 6,664 unsheltered residents without housing in the county live in Folsom, according to the count.

A coalition of non-profit organizations and city departments in Folsom say they are collaborating to address the issue and offer support. The Folsom Alliance for the Unhoused started in 2021 and includes HART of Folsom, Jake’s Journey Home, Powerhouse Ministries and the Folsom Police Department’s Community Crime Suppression Unit.

“We’re all a heartbeat away from that – we are,” said Jeanne Shuman, founder of Jake’s Journey Home. “We have a pandemic, you lose a job, you lose your car… you’re done. It’s all trauma based and what I find is that our folks didn’t have the proper support.”

Shuman adds the mission of her organization is to “connect with people who are in need. We respect them where they’re at. And then we assist them for whatever they might see as where they would like their life to lead.”

For some unhoused individuals, addressing their situation means finding work, while for others it means securing permanent housing.

“I don’t want to be like this,” explained Jeremiah, a man living on the streets of Folsom. “I don’t want to be homeless anymore.”

Jeremiah recounted how he’s struggled with homelessness since the age of 12, and used to hang out with a group of people who would encourage him to steal from stores. He now finds it difficult to secure employment as he admits to potential employers that he cannot trust himself to refrain from stealing at the workplace.

Kimberly, another person living outside in Folsom, said that she was raped at a young age and didn’t receive the necessary support to cope with the trauma. She believes this experience has played a significant role in leading her to where she is today.

Her 2007 Hummer, which served as her home and safe haven, was stolen from a nearby church parking lot in October 2021.

“Everything I owned was in there –except for what’s in my head–was in that car,” Kimberly observed.

Jake’s Journey Home hosts a dinner for unhoused people every Thursday night at a park near the Folsom Public Library. Courtesy photo

When asked about the underlying causes of homelessness, both Folsom Mayor Rosario Rodriguez and Shuman emphasized the need for trauma-related support.

“I would love to see a program starting in Folsom of mental health specialists, or chaplins, or pastors or somebody, anybody, who has the heart to start helping people deal with the trauma in their life and start getting them to talk about the issues so that they can identify that there are services for them that could help them,” Rodriguez said. “But that can only be done through building a relationship with them and talking.”

HART of Folsom has been operating its winter shelter every year since 2017, providing a safe place to sleep at night and serving as a starting point for many guests to access relevant services. 

“So, I was feeding in the park twice a week; and when HART started, I knew that our guys would not trust them,” said HART Board Member and Winter Shelter night captain Creta Adams. “They would think they would be put on a bus and shipped off to who knows where. So when they started the winter shelter I started as a volunteer just so our guys would trust them.”

This year, the winter shelter has consistently reached its capacity of 20 guests, which is limited by city ordinances. According to Lynn LePage, a night captain at the shelter, this is because HART shelters in neighboring cities close earlier than the Folsom branch.

“They feed us dinner and then we pretty much can do whatever we want.” Gary, a regular shelter guests, said. “Last night we played scrabble and it was kind of entertaining, some of the words that people think of…”

Like many without a home, the winter sees Gary spending his days trying to stay dry and, if his phone has enough charge, playing games to pass the time. “There’s so many games I don’t know which one’s good [and] which one’s not.”

Gary is working with Shuman from Jake’s Journey Home to secure housing with a couple of roommates.

In addition to the winter shelter, HART also helps to secure housing for its beneficiaries.

“HART has, at the moment, six transitional housing [units], either apartments or trailers, where we can hopefully bring people out of a shelter situation or a car and put them into safe, secure housing while they work on getting their skills and their job,” former HART president Judi Alexander said.

Still, while members of the Folsom Alliance for the Unhoused feel they’re making progress towards addressing the county-wide crisis, they have more plans for the future.

Shuman is working on securing a day center that will have “various areas where they can cook a meal, wash their clothes, restroom, showers, haircuts, detoxing, mental health, medical, it’ll be an all-in-one stop for these folks. The city is asking even to maybe expand it a little bit to a 20-bed emergency shelter as well as a day center.”

Rodriguez is hoping to add experts to the alliance in the near future and potentially propose their model to the rest of Sacramento County.

“If we could bring in a chaplaincy program into this Folsom alliance for the unhoused then we have a complete program, and if that program can be rubber stamped in other areas of the county, I think we can start tackling the real core problems of homelessness: addiction and trauma,” Rodriguez said.  “They need to be able to get the resources from a place, not from multiple places.”

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