In an innovative project, the East County Transitional Living Center is building two 3,500-square foot buildings which will give the nonprofit the ability to house more than 100 men and women and open it up to house 40 more rooms for families. Foundation pouring is expected to happen sometime in April, then with the help of the East County Posse, a philanthropic organization of tradespeople will build the two, two-story buildings in one day.
ECTLC President/CEO Harold Brown said he expects 30 to 50 contractors and 400 tradesmen to join ECTLC for the one day build.
“We cannot use volunteers for this, you have to know what you are doing,” said Brown. “Most of those will probably come from the East County Posse, a wonderful nonprofit philanthropic organization. Their motto is that they do not want to provide a handout, but they will provide a hand up.”
Brown said the Posse normally works with people that have had accidents and need bathrooms remodeled, ramps built, purchasing vans for the disabled, help people that are sick, have cancer and need special things done to their homes. Brown said the Posse is a great friend to the ECTLC.
“They like doing because it incorporates their trade,” he said. “They also provide gift cards for all of our kids going back to school. It is mostly used to buy clothing, so kids go back to school with new clothes. These families do not have money to get clothes and we usually get a lot of schools supplies from other organizations. So, the Posse works on getting them dressed for success. They do the same at Christmas time. We give gift cards to the parents so the parents can buy their kids a gift. They can literally have a little Christmas in their room.”
Brown said this has been an up and down year for the center due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had more than 100 program members receive very large unemployment checks,” he said. “Some of them got checks for $6,000 to $8,000. A couple of people received checks for $14,000 with the $600 extra a week and the regular amount you normally get for unemployment. By May, I had gone from 192 single men and women down to 92.”
Brown said the unique part of the organization’s business model is that 85% of revenue generated to upkeep the facility and pay the bills is done through its Work Therapy programs for single men and women.
“We did not have any problems with the families,” said Brown. “The families were able to transition, with 200 families that came in and went back out into permanent housing, which is double than we have ever done before because there was a lot of COVID money for them, and Section 8 vouchers that were available.”
Brown said the Center also had rapid rehousing money that came to them from the many COVID-19 relief packages and that the Center partnered with several other organizations, moving families into permanent housing fairly rapidly.
“There was a plus side to the government funding and then there was a negative side to the COVID funding, at least for us. In April and May, I was basically out of work,” said Brown. “I had no revenue coming in. We lost more than $85,000 worth of revenue from our work therapy program because we were locked down and in quarantine.”
Brown said generally, the Center does not have fundraisers for its general expenses, but will for building, remodeling and other projects for the men, women and children at the facility.
“But when I sent the letter out to our supporters, those that would bring by clothes and drop off things, unbelievably we raised more than $120,000,” he said. “This actually helped us through. Then we were able to apply for the PPP money, so I did not have to lay anyone off. We do not close. I do not say that we are closed, and everyone must go back to the streets. We stay open and help who we have.”
By late June, Brown said they were taking in men, women and families. He said they did have a couple of COVID-19 breakouts, brought county health in to help set up washing stations and COVID protocols.
“They were very wonderful,” said Brown. “Nurses spent a couple of days with us making sure. Quarantining people is not something new for us. In community living the flu goes around every year. So, we are kind of used to it, just not at this level.”
Brown said there was a breakout in May with about 11 people testing positive for COVID-19. They were quarantined, but Brown said only a couple had symptoms and no one had to go to a hospital.
“But that was about it. Over the rest of the year, we had a case here and a case there,” he said. “We had the rooms set up for quarantining, we would bring them their food. They would get tested, and when cleared after 14 days without symptoms, we would bring them back into the population. But I have not had a case here since November 2020.”
Brown said now everyone is wearing masks, washing hands, keeping all the protocols, and encouraging everyone that comes on site to do so. He said all staff and volunteers were vaccinated along with healthcare professionals. He said out of the 300 to 400 people on site, it may have around 35 now that have received have been vaccinated.
Brown said the facility is fully open, it has beds for single men and single women, but that family slots are always full. He said there is a waiting list for families, so when a spot comes open, they call families and invite them if they have not already found a place to live. Brown said he is looking forward to the 35 additional rooms for families.
“Thirty-five years ago, the homeless were the 50 and 60 year old,” he said. “Nowadays, it is the teenagers and 20 somethings.”
Brown said that normally, the Center does not see many teenagers. Most teenagers, he said, are not going to sleep in a car or facility, but rather go couch surfing with friends. He said they would visit the property, but very seldom stayed. But he said COVID cut that off.
“There was no more couch surfing, so the families coming in were coming in with their teenagers,” said Brown. “It was impactful for us because we are normally dealing with children 13 years old and younger, but this past year we have had about 35 teenagers in the program. So, we started a new youth program working with Foothills Christian Church called Youth Venture and we just held our grand opening of our Youth Venture Center.”
Brown said adding the two, two-story dormitories will allow them to serve more people that need transitional housing. He said with the help of philanthropists and giving organizations, the build is completely paid for, but the Center is still raising funds to have the ability to finish the inside before taking people in. He said it would cost at least $7,500 to finish and furnish each room, so ECTLC is still looking for donations to complete the project.
To donate to the ECTLC directly or find more about its Brick By Brick fundraiser, visit www.ectlc.org.