Article by Community News, written by Hector Hernandez Jr.
Mary’s Mercy Center of San Bernardino broke ground Wednesday, Jan. 9, on the first two phases of Mary’s Village, a 10-acre, 83-bed transitional housing center to serve the growing and often overlooked population of homeless men in San Bernardino, set to open in 2020.
The $12 million project will offer comprehensive services aimed at giving homeless men the support they need to reconstruct their lives thanks to a $7.368 million grant from San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and additional support from Southern California Edison and other donors.
The groundbreaking ceremony brought supporters from the Catholic church, San Manuel, Edison, San Bernardino County, the city of San Bernardino and other local agencies together to celebrate the realization of a vision from Father Michael Barry and a collaborative will to address the local and countywide homelessness issue.
County Supervisor Josie Gonzales congratulated Mary’s Village and all “the hands that have touched this important project.”
“It brings tears to my heart because at one time there was a mountain ahead of us and it has been leveled,” Barry said about beginning construction on the village.
According to Mary’s Mercy Center Vice President Michael Hein, the project will follow the model of the center’s Veronica’s Homes of Mercy for women and children to provide shelter and comprehensive services for homeless men.
The project is designed to be completed in four phases with the first two fully funded and ready for construction.
Phase one will build a four-building, 28,000-square-foot men’s shelter that will offer job training, GED, alcohol and drug addiction and other counseling programs. Phase 2 will create transitional housing for 30 residents designed to guide residents back into independent living. Typically, residents will spend 12 to 24 months in each phase as they complete their educational and support programs.
According to Hein, the men can stay at the shelter as long as they continue working in the personalized program addressing their individual needs, with the guidance of a case manager.
“It’s like a family, they have security, a cohesive program and they feel comfortable,” Hein said of residents of the Veronica’s Home shelters. “They become self-confident and acclimated to family structure. That helps them move forward.
“It’s about providing the basic needs of people to change their feelings about themselves so they can move forward,” he added. “It’s like if you’re hungry at school you cannot concentrate, learn and perform.”
Later, phase 3 will add medical and educational facilities with the construction of a 5,000-square-foot medical building, an 8,000-square-foot educational building and 4,000 square feet of administrative offices. Phase 4 will construct up to 20,000 square feet of storage facilities to support Mary’s Mercy Center services throughout the San Bernardino area.
Support from Southern California Edison has designed zero-net emissions, all-electric buildings that will, according to Southern California Vice President Jill Anderson, save on construction costs by eliminating the need for natural gas infrastructure as well as save in utility costs for the life of the buildings.
Edison has also donated $280,000 for the electric infrastructure and $25,000 for job skills training programs for future village residents.
“These much-needed wraparound services are exactly the kind a project of this caliber needs to keep the residents in our communities safe,” Gonzales said. “These wraparound services lower the recidivism rate and demonstrate cost savings efficiencies.
“Every city in this county, in their annual budget, is spending money in one way or another to address the homeless population needs, whether it be code enforcement, police departments, park maintenance or community centers. Within those budget line items is the money that would otherwise have gone toward other improvements to beautify and maintain our cities. Projects like this begin to relieve those financial impacts, looking to bring under control what is at this point out of control.”
According to the 2018 County of San Bernardino Point-in-Time Homeless Count, there are 2,118 homeless individuals living in the county, a 13.5 percent increase over 2017. (The 2019 Homeless Count is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 24.) Approximately 30 percent of the county’s homeless live in San Bernardino and 68.5 percent are male.
This growing homeless population moved San Bernardino Mayor R. Carey Davis and the City Council to declare a shelter crisis and a homeless emergency within the city on Nov. 7.
Although men make up the majority of the homeless population there has been a noticeable lack of shelters and services for men, with several of the city’s homeless programs being for women and children only.
“We’re excited to partner with a program that’s willing to serve the men of this community,” said Ken Ramirez, San Manuel business committee secretary. “So many times we hear that women have shelters to go to, children have shelters to go to but, so many times, men are left to fend for themselves and are left out in so many ways.”
While the project has spent five years in planning stages one of the main challenges was in gaining city approval. According to Hein, San Bernardino City Council was at first very receptive to the plan but voted against Mary’s Village in July 2016. The council then approved the village in December 2016.
The city council’s reluctance was credited to anticipation of neighborhood outcry and disapproval. Public outcry that Hein says did not materialize.
After reaching out to the neighbors of the village, Mary’s Mercy Center found their main objection to be having a soup kitchen near their homes. So there will be no soup kitchen at the village. According to Hein, when the project was brought before the city council no residents spoke against the plan. There were about 30 who gave comment in support.
“We’ve donated food, money, clothing, we’ve offered rides but when it comes to providing shelter or permanent housing within our communities the community sentiment was more often apprehensive then inviting,” Gonzales said of the stigma associated with homeless shelters. “When a project becomes a little to close to our homes it becomes uncomfortable.
“It’s understandable,” she added, as, in the past, group homes were often poorly managed as the norm.
“Today we are on a path far away from what created that stigma,” she said. “The communities as a whole need to trust that the facilities created to help others get back on their feet will be well maintained and operated and that the results will outstandingly project the reconstruction of lives. We have learned though years of trial and error what steps we need to take to run a high end and sustainable service program that nets positive results.”
San Manuel Band of Mission Indians extended its long history of supporting Mary’s Mercy Center by presenting a $7.368 million check for construction of the new village.
“We’re all about looking at the community in its entirety because this is our traditional homeland. We still consider this our homeland,” Ramirez said. “So many of our partnerships in the area have blossomed from deep roots. We’re partnering with those programs and organizations that helped lift us out of poverty so many, many years ago.
“The Catholic church stood by our side by providing meals and the bare necessities we needed to survive on the reservation, as did the Seventh-Day Adventists. Those partnerships were forged many years ago are still here today and this is our way to give back.”