The Mission:

To put an end to homelessness in Kern County through collaborative planning and action.

For information: Homelessness Resources Administrative Assistant Jessica M. Janssen (661) 834-1580 or Jessica.F@uwkern.org. 

 


Clinica Sierra Vista/Flood Bakersfield Ministries

Carlos Macias - Housing Placement Saved His Life

In June 2012, the Kern County Homeless Collaborative held its Home First 12 Registry Week as part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign to house the most vulnerable street homeless in America by mid-year 2014.

At the time, the plan was to house the 12 most medically compromised of Bakersfield’s street homeless. Ninety-two percent of them, 11 of the 12, had been housed successfully by year end, and it is fair to say that at least some of them might have died, had they been left to fend for themselves without the program's life-giving support.

“I think I was headed that way,” said Carlos Macias, 50. “I don’t think I would have made it through this winter.”

Carlos, who gave us permission to share his story, ranked high on the Vulnerability Index (R) that was used to determine his eligibility for the program.

Valley fever that had spread from his lungs to other parts of his body; tuberculosis; Type 2 diabetes; Hepatitis C; cirrhosis of the liver; high blood pressure; degenerative bone disease; a hernia that was inoperable because of his many other health risks; a titanium alloy implant put in his neck years before to repair the damage suffered in an attack in prison, while he was serving time for drug possession and petty theft; and, to top it all off, a dangerous heroin addiction: Carlos’ body was a repository of all these chronic conditions that put him in the Vulnerability Index red zone: among the top 5 most medically compromised from a total of 300 homeless subjects surveyed.

The Wasco native had been on the street for two years, he said, when one of the volunteers in the Home First 12 effort, Denise Brock of KCHC member agency Flood Bakersfield Ministries, approached him at Martin Luther King Park. Flood Ministries already had a relationship with Carlos, and were hopeful that the Home First 12 effort might help him.

Here’s how Carlos describes how he came into the program at just one month short of his 50th birthday:

“I was sitting on a bench, thinking what to do, where I was going to sleep next,” he said. The sleep deprivation and anxiety that accompany street homelessness were other debilitating factors in his life. “When you sleep out in the street, you have to sleep with one eye open,” Carlos said. “You have people walking up to you and there’s no telling what they’re going to do to you. I’ve had a knife pulled on me. I’ve had a gun pulled on me.”

“One of the ladies that works at Flood,” Brock, read the questions on the Vulnerability Index to him that first day, he said. A few days later, she came back to tell him he qualified as “one of the 12.”

“At first, I didn’t really believe her,” he said. “I thought she was some lady who was just drinking too much.” But he believed enough to agree to fill out an application for housing. “I filled it out and I forgot all about it, and one day she came back and said I had it.”

Today, Carlos is one of three Home First 12 clients under the care of another KCHC member agency, Clinica Sierra Vista. Tina Ayala case manages Carlos and another program participant who has become his friend.

“I see him trying to be a support to other of the Home First 12 clients,” said Ayala, who has witnessed a night-and-day transformation in her client (with whom she was photographed during the Registry Week Community Briefing, where Carlos and four others were introduced to the community).

“At first, he was really nervous and scared.” Ayala said. “He was inside himself and reserved. You didn’t know how he was feeling. Now it’s always a big hug and a smile when I see him.” She added that Carlos is now more apt to open up and discuss his frustrations with her.

About Ayala, Carlos said, “Tina helps me with my paperwork—the stuff that I don’t understand." She relays messages others leave with her for him, as he does not have his own phone. Margarita Rosson, Clinica’s Homeless Coordinator, helps Carlos with food and other necessities since he can’t work because of his hernia, he said.

Carlos applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, but his application was denied. He does not qualify to apply for SSI benefits under the Homeless Collaborative's new SOAR Program, which specifically helps homeless people with Social Security benefits, because—ironically—he is no longer homeless. However, with the SOAR tools KCHC case managers and benefits specialists have learned for fast-tracking SSI applications, Clinica and local SOAR Lead Agency Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance are hoping to appeal his case.

For now, Carlos said he stays actively involved in his own health care, consulting with his doctors on the best treatment and meds options available to him—including possibly enrolling in a methadone treatment program for heroin addicts.

Simple things, like receiving his mail at home, are another cause for gratefulness. "I used to get my mail at St. Vincent de Paul Center (on Baker Street)," he said. "But sometimes I would be far away and it's kind of hard walking. I couldn't keep up with my appointments."

And then there are things that others who have not had the experience of homelessness take for granted, like safety and sleep: “I don’t have to worry about anybody pulling a gun on me. I can sleep in peace," Carlos said. "I do go around telling people to go and fill out the application (for housing through Home First 12) and give it a try. It’s way better than sleeping out in the cold. The program has helped me a lot.”

And the program will help many more than the 12 originally targeted, as the Board and Executive Director of KCHC member the Housing Authority of the County of Kern have increased the number of housing vouchers available to house vulnerable street homeless from 12 in 2012, to 36—annually!

When one considers Carlos' story, one can see the level of work required from so many agencies to help a homeless person who is medically vulnerable obtain housing and life-changing benefits, including appropriate medical and mental health care.

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