Nov. 27, 2012
Kimberly Rivers, contributor
For those in the Ojai Valley without a place to live, the cold nights that come with winter add another layer of worry to their hard situations. For 21 years, during the winter months, the Ojai Valley Family Shelter has welcomed the homeless as guests, providing hot food, safe shelter and help with dignity and compassion.
Every night, from Dec. 1 to the end of March, OVFS — in coordination with local churches — provides a safe and warm place to pass the night for families, men and women who have connections to the Ojai Valley through family, work or school.
Martha Ditchfield, the current OVFS president, was there at the beginning, under the leadership of Rev. H. Wilbur Skeels, with the intention of serving community members who did not have a place to live.
“Those people are not ‘those people,’ they are part of our community,” says Ditchfield. “They are the people walking beside you down the street.”
Ditchfield explained that the majority who find themselves homeless in the Ojai Valley are either working, looking for work and/or looking for affordable housing and they need a breather — A way to save some money in order to afford first, last and security deposit. She said she has also noticed an increase in women at the shelters in recent years.
Since its beginnings, the OVFS program has evolved and is now a model for other communities. According to its website, during the 2011-12 season OVFS had an average of 20 guests each night with a total 2,338 “guest stays” for that season — an increase from 1,839 stays for the 2010-11 season.
Rick Raine, the OVFS coordinator and only paid employee, works closely with six local churches who donate their space and coordinate intake, meals and services for guests on the night they host the shelter. Raine is at every site, every night working with the volunteers and guests to make sure it all runs smoothly.
In addition to hot, nourishing meals, a safe and warm place to sleep, guests could in the past also get a warm shower. OVFS has a shower utility vehicle, dubbed the SUV, Ditchfield explained, that can be connected at each site. However, she added, the SUV was vandalized, the gas line was cut. “Until we get that fixed we won’t have that service,” she noted. “We are working on a grant for a shower unit designed for providing mobile showers.”
The unit costs $80,000 and would provide multiple showers and be easier to maintain.
When asked what OVFS needs, Ditchfield responded, “Always money and more volunteers willing to do overnight.”
OVFS coordinates with the Community Assistance Program and HELP of Ojai to refer folks who need additional services and help when OVFS is in its off-season.
To donate, volunteer or for more information, see www.ovfs.org, or call 804-7094.
• Mondays, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
• Tuesdays, St. Thomas Aquinas Church
• Wednesdays, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
• Thursdays, Ojai Presbyterian Church
• Fridays, Ojai Valley Grange Hall
• Saturdays, First Baptist Church.
• Sundays, Ojai Wesleyan Church