Fifteen years have passed since they first met, but Jean Wegener (right) and
Dasha enjoy an enduring bond forged from kindness, determination and success.
It has been more than 15 years, but Jean Wegener vividly recalls the first time she met the mother and her daughter. Homeless and in shelters for abused women and children, they had been referred to Serving People In Need (SPIN), a Costa Mesa-based nonprofit that helps families and individuals find stable long-term housing. Wegener, SPIN’s executive director, immediately connected them with a safe place to stay.
The mother was battling cancer and taking care of her young daughter, Dasha. SPIN helped provide the mother with access to medical treatment that improved her quality of life.
The silver lining to the story is that SPIN’s efforts established a solid foundation for safe and secure long-term housing — and Dasha ultimately received a four-year scholarship to Georgetown.
After graduation she was hired by Google in Mountain View, California. She recently transferred to Google’s Irvine office to be closer to home.
SPIN and Hoag Join Forces
Stable housing. Access to quality health care. Financial counseling and job-placement assistance. A reliable food supply.
Having access to these resources can mean the difference between a healthy, safe life and one of daily despair. When you’re homeless, these and so many other essential services are far too often difficult to access because they are spread out in different locations throughout the county.
That’s what makes the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living so unique and necessary: Underserved and at-risk individuals and families can access the critically important services they need, all in one location.
Since last year, that has included SPIN’s compassionate services for the homeless: The organization provides an onsite case manager at the Center located at 307 Placentia Avenue in Newport Beach.
“The Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living is poised to play a critical role in our efforts to help the homeless,” Wegener says. “When you have so many services at one location, people are more likely to come for help. When someone can take a bus or their car to one location and see a dentist, a doctor, a counselor, a case manager for housing, get food and receive quality essential services, you set them up for success. Through the Center, Hoag is serving a huge community need.”
A Bold Goal: Eradicate Homelessness in Orange County
Since its inception in 1987, SPIN has served more than 74,000 families and individuals. The organization’s ultimate goal is both direct and breathtakingly bold: work with other community organizations and agencies, and city and county officials, to eradicate homelessness in Orange County once and for all.
SPIN works toward that goal by helping one family at a time — by offering what Wegener describes as “a hand up, not a handout.”
The foundation of SPIN’s support is housing. Working with dozens of landlords across the county, SPIN’s staff help place families and individuals in long-term housing. SPIN also provides financial counseling, job placement and other services. And the organization serves as a conduit to a wide range of other services through partnerships like the one with the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living.
SPIN’s participation at the Center was made possible by Melinda and Chuck Smith via the Hoag Family Foundation.
“Nothing is more important to children and their families than ensuring they have safe and stable housing,” says Arturo Diaz, LCSW, supervisor of the Center. “We have been so impressed by the successes of Jean and her staff and the major, positive difference they are making in so many lives. It just made a lot of sense to pair their efforts and momentum with the comprehensive services Hoag offers at the Center for Healthy Living.”
In 2017, Wegener says, fully 92 percent of SPIN’s clients succeeded in becoming self-sufficient and independent of all public support. Because “children are our future,” she says SPIN concentrates most of its housing efforts on families.
Filling in the Housing Gap with ‘GAPP’
SPIN places families in housing through its housing program, GAPP (Guided Assistance to Permanent Placement), which provides financial assistance for housing, including rapid rehousing, transitional housing and rental assistance for families with children.
Wegener says the foundation of GAPP is case management and support services that address the underlying issues that led to a client’s current situation. The services provided often include job development, counseling, budgeting, credit cleanup and more.
In addition, SPIN serves Orange County’s homeless by taking it to the streets, literally. Through its Street Services Program established in 1987, SPIN provides 350 meals each week and distributes hygiene kits, warm clothing, blankets, sleeping mats, referrals to shelters and other special requests to the homeless at The Courtyard in Santa Ana, to the homeless collaborative in Laguna Beach, and to the County’s first year-round emergency shelter.
Loving fathers like Joseph Garcia — who could use a hand up, not a handout — are exactly why SPIN was established.
Several years ago, Garcia was locked in the fight of his life as he sought full legal custody of his son and daughter, who were 7 and 4 at the time.
His attorney pushed for a compromise with his ex-wife, but that was a non-starter for Garcia: He knew his kids would be better off living with him in a stable, loving environment.
Garcia fired his attorney and headed to court. Alone.
For months he sat and listened to court proceedings, observing closely and taking notes, learning how lawyers represent their clients.
Armed with this insight, Garcia went back to court seeking full custody of his children — this time representing himself.
With SPIN by his side every step along the way, Robert Garcia found the
perfect home for himself and his two children.
It took three years total, but he won.
At the time the court granted him custody, Garcia was renting a single room. It was tight, to say the least, when his children moved in, but the family couldn’t have been happier.
Still, Garcia knew he needed to find a place quickly. He looked around for days but everything was too expensive.
“They were amazing,” Garcia says. “They helped me find a one-bedroom apartment and paid the first and last month’s rent and then several more months until I could get on my feet.”
SPIN also paid for Garcia’s schooling and provided counseling in financial literacy. He earned his fire inspector license and got a job with a private company. Not long after, SPIN gave Garcia a heads-up about a three-bedroom apartment that was in his affordability range.
“My kids each have their own bedroom, but they still like to come and sleep with me once in a while,” Garcia says, smiling broadly.
“SPIN has stepped up above and beyond for me and my kids,” he says. “I feel so blessed to have had their help along the way. My kids are doing great. They’ve had to learn to do without certain things, but that has helped them to understand what’s important.”
Garcia says the same is true of him, adding, “My kids are my life.”
Through a total community benefit investment of $15,000 in 2018, the partnership between SPIN and Hoag’s Center for Healthy Living is helping homeless individuals and families in Orange County create healthier, more stable lives.