Where to Turn In Hard Times : Social Service Agencies Offer Economic, Emotional Support to People Faced With Adversity

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A bed. A shower. A hot breakfast. An address and telephone number to receive mail and calls.This may seem like a bland description of Anybody's House U.S.A., but it could also serve as a brief sketch of just some of the basic needs provided by North County social service agencies.

Thousands of North County families and individuals avail themselves of these and other services every year. Some people are homeless, and some are seeking refuge from a violent domestic situation. But the majority are unemployed or underemployed heads of households who "have one foot in the curb and are trying to keep the other foot out," according to one director of a North County agency.

In cases of economic hardship, it is not a question of wondering whether there is a problem but, rather, how to seek help. People in crisis know they are in crisis, said Suzanne Stewart Pohlman, director of the North County Interfaith Council in Escondido, one of the largest and oldest service organizations in North County.

"There is a huge population of working poor who are always going to need services to remain out of the clutches of abject poverty," Stewart Pohlman said. "It's very trite and very true that most people are one paycheck from being out on the street."

For people not in the midst of a major emotional crisis or physical need, it is difficult to grasp the full import and range of problems many families and individuals go through every day just to survive. But, for people who find themselves in dire straits for the first time, fear often blocks any clear plan of action.

"During this past winter, we spoke with more people on the phone experiencing hard times because of the recession," said Pam Lewis, director of the Ecumenical Service Center in Oceanside.

"You could sense in their voices the fright and, 'How did this happen?' " Lewis said.

"The concern to me, and I've been in this business for seven years, is that all of a sudden there was a larger percentage of clientele who were really in the throes of economic crisis for the first time and had no clue how to proceed. There was a little bit of embarrassment and hesitancy as if it was their fault. These are people who thought they would never have to apply for food stamps."

Pride may be as much a stumbling block to seeking help as fear, Lewis said. But the main objective of all these North County service agencies is to provide stopgap help that leads to long-term self-sufficiency.

And, for those who want to help people who have needs other than economic, there is no magic checklist of warning signs to consult before taking action. What do you do if you suspect a neighborhood child is being physically or emotionally abused? Where do you turn if you or someone you know has been raped or beaten by a spouse or acquaintance?

In the case of spousal abuse, a neighbor or friend can give emotional support to the woman, encourage her to seek help, or offer to get her informational brochures. Perhaps the best help a person can give is to call the police when they hear or see someone being attacked.

"Until she (the victim) is ready to do something about it, there is nothing you can do," said Sharon Newcomb, assistant director of the Women's Resource Center in Oceanside. "She is the least capable person to do something about it, but she's the only one who can do something about it. She has to make up her mind she isn't going to put up with that anymore."

The same is true of rape cases. Newcomb said that, when a rape victim calls a hot-line number, a counselor will list options, including advice to see a physician and an offer of support at the hospital. But, ultimately it's up to the victim to decide her course of action.

"It's our firm belief that the client must be in control of her life," Newcomb said. "We would not abandon a rape victim, but if she says no (to seeing a doctor and reporting the crime), the answer is no."

And what of abused children? Dennis Phipps, executive director of Casa de Amparo, a 26-bed shelter for physically, emotionally and sexually abused children, said that looking at and listening to the child is the key.

"If you're seeing abnormal bruises or marks, ask the child what happened," Phipps said. "Listen to what the child is really saying. Look for any unusual types of circumstances that are occurring in that child's life and ask the child."

Reporting a child-abuse case does not necessarily mean the youngster will be taken away from his or her parents, Phipps said. For someone unsure of wanting to get involved, it is stressed that the identity of a person reporting suspected child abuse will be protected.

It is important to note that volunteerism is the backbone of North County's service agencies. With limited funding from diminishing resources, volunteers have always outnumbered paid staff, and there are tremendous opportunities for people to help in almost any area.

"People usually volunteer in their field of professional expertise," said Stewart Pohlman, whose Interfaith Council has more than 1,500 volunteers. "The bevy of volunteer talent in the community is rich."

"We have marriage and family counselors and therapists who will dedicate a few hours from their weekly schedule on a pro bono basis," Stewart Pohlman said, citing just one example of the varied volunteer opportunities. "People are really willing to volunteer if it is clear what is expected of them, and if you show them how they can participate."

In an often-confusing system, language alone can be a barrier for people needing help. All of the agencies listed below help Latino immigrants who speak little or no English--or often do not know how to read or write--to navigate through a system that can sometimes seem overwhelming.

The following is a basic guide to some of the larger North County service agencies that deal with everything from providing food and shelter to long-term plans of action for a self-sufficient future.

North County Interfaith Council

430 N. Rose, Escondido

Calls: 489-6380

Center Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. A hot breakfast is served at 6:30 a.m. every weekday morning before the center opens. Breakfast participants also receive a sack lunch.

People Served: Low- or no-income individuals and families, primarily in North County's inland region. The center assists people from all areas of the county. Services offered in English and Spanish.

Statistics: In March, 3,115 clients were seen for various services. Of that number, 657--or 21.1%--were homeless individuals or families.

Fees for Services: None.

Appointments: Clients are usually referred from other service or law enforcement agencies. Because of a limited staff, the center can see only 60 individuals or families a day on a first-come, first-served basis. People need to call first to have their need assessed. Clients needing placement in one of the shelters go through additional screening.

Requirements: The center's acceptance process requires that an individual have some form of photo identification. If a person does not have a photo I.D., the center can help them obtain one. Clients are screened for their source of income, resources and personal support system. The center does not provide assistance to people abusing drugs or alcohol, but will refer individuals to appropriate agencies.

Agency Goal: To help clients identify their strengths and to utilize them to become self-sufficient again.

Paid Staff: 16

Volunteers: 1,200 full- and part-time workers; 72 congregations throughout North County.

Established: 1982

Annual Operating Budget: In excess of $1 million.

Funded: The center receives monies from federal, state, county and city levels as well as a broad spectrum of private donations.

Some of the Services Provided: A 10-bed men's shelter; a one-year transitional family shelter consisting of 16 two bedroom-two bath apartments; a 30-day, six-bed shelter for mentally ill homeless women; emergency food for families; family crisis intervention; prescription vouchers; children's health enrichment services exempt from MediCal; sit-down breakfast and sack lunch to go for 340 people Monday-Friday; showers; laundry; phone-mail message service; job assistance, career assessments, transportation assistance through bus tokens and gas vouchers; literacy tutoring; budget clinics staffed by volunteer CPAs and money management specialists; relocation assistance for families who have stable resources available elsewhere in the state or country; a cook-chef training program; tuition for school or vocational training; legal clinic staffed by the San Diego Volunteer Lawyers Program that helps with mitigation of domestic issues; amelioration of debt relief; immigration needs.

EYE Counseling and Crisis Services

200 N. Ash St., Escondido

Calls: 747-6281

Center Hours: 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. The phone number listed above also serves as a 24-hour hot line.

People Served: Low- or no-income individuals and families. More than 40% of EYE's clients are Latino, and services are offered in English and Spanish.

Statistics: In 1991, EYE served 23,000 clients for various services. EYE is also a member of the San Diego County Sexual Assault Response Team and works with Pomerado Hospital, a sexual assault treatment center designated by the state of California.

Fees for Services: Sliding scale. EYE provides service regardless of a client's ability to pay.

Appointments: No matter what the service, people need to call first and make an appointment. Clients are also often referred from other social service or law enforcement agencies.

Requirements: The acceptance process for clients varies from service to service. For example, with the Option For Recovery program, clients have to sign an agreement to remain drug-free during the program. The center requires that all clients have some form of photo identification. If a person does not have a photo I.D., the center can help them obtain one. Clients are screened for their source of income, resources and personal support system. The center does not provide assistance to people abusing drugs or alcohol, but will refer individuals to appropriate agencies.

Agency Goal: Treating and trying to preserve the whole family is the primary objective. Early detection, early intervention and providing services for every member of the family.

Paid Staff: 65

Volunteers: More than 100

Established: 1969

Annual Operating Budget: $2 million

Funded: The center receives monies from federal, state, county and city levels as well as private donations. Because of diminishing government resources, EYE is trying to generate more private donations.

Some of the Services Provided: Child abuse prevention and treatment services; 24-hour crisis hot line; a 30-bed emergency shelter for battered and homeless women and their children; domestic violence program; counseling for troubled adolescents and to prevent youth gang involvement; Options For Recovery, a day-treatment program for chemically dependent pregnant women and their children; parenting classes; La Familia Primera, a resource center culturally relevant to Latino families in need and staffed by trained bilingual, bicultural people; STEPS, an intensive, two-year, day-treatment counseling program for boys ages 12 to 17 who have exhibited inappropriate sexual behavior; counseling clinics for families, individuals, groups; diagnostic testing for anyone with any kind of emotional problem.

Ecumenical Service Center

125 S. Tremont, Oceanside

Calls: 721-2117

Center Hours: 10 a.m.-noon, 1-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.

People Served: Families and individuals living in poverty or who are homeless receiving small benefits from welfare or social security. The center primarily assists people from Carlsbad, San Marcos, Oceanside and Vista, but does assist people from all areas of the county. Services offered in English and Spanish.

Statistics: The center sees about 18,000 clients a year. Its food bank provides food in emergency situations to 1,000 people a month.

Fees for Services: None.

Appointments: No appointments are necessary. Clients are often referred by other social service agencies.

Requirements: Individuals are asked to fill out an application, giving name, age, social security number, source of income, number of children and what services they require. A volunteer interviewer will discuss with a prospective client the reasons that brought them to the agency and what they can do to get out of their crisis status. People seeking shelter require additional screening. The center will not provide services to people abusing drugs or alcohol, but will refer individuals to appropriate agencies.

Agency Goal: This short-term emergency assistance outreach program looks for ways to hook a client into other resources that will lead to a long-term solution.

Paid Staff: 2

Volunteers: 75

Established: 1982

Annual Operating Budget: $120,000

Funded: The center receives monies from a small Community Development Block Grant from the city of Oceanside, local congregations, private donations and an annual dinner dance fund-raiser.

Some of the Services Provided: Three days worth of emergency food for a family; clothing; transportation; prescription vouchers; rent money for one month through a government rent and mortgage assistance program; two-week shelter in local motels; a 12-bed shelter operated out of the Good Samaritan for employable men that can last up to 30 days if the man is successful in obtaining work; case management, which includes budget counseling; an extensive referral service.

Women's Resource Center

3355 Mission Ave., Suite 111, Oceanside

Calls: 757-3500

Center Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. The above phone number also serves as a 24-hour crisis hot line.

People Served: Victims of domestic violence, rape victims, families in trouble. The center extends its services from the San Diego-Del Mar border to Camp Pendleton-Orange County on the coast and from the ocean to inland areas, but would respond to anyone in the county. Services offered in English and Spanish.

Statistics: In 1991, the center served more than 12,000 clients. Not all stayed in a shelter. The center is also the only Designated Rape Response Agency in North County under the auspices of the state Office of Criminal Justice Planning.

Fees for Services: $1 per person per day for women and their children in a confidential shelter. No bill ever exceeds $100, no matter how many children a woman may have in a shelter with her.

Appointments: No appointments necessary. Walk-ins are seen almost immediately by a case worker. The hot-line number accepts collect calls. About 85% of the center's clients are referred by law enforcement agencies or the court system.

Requirements: Battered women entering a shelter with their children go through two acceptance processes. A laundry list of information and documents is needed, including children's medical histories and birth certificates, marriage certificate, medical benefit cards, military I.D. if applicable, a description of the perpetrator, his vehicle and any weapons he may have. Toys and several changes of clothes for the woman and children entering a shelter is also required. Signing a lodging agreement--agreeing to follow shelter rules--is another requirement. Pregnant women due to deliver within six weeks will not be admitted into a shelter but will be referred to another agency that can handle the mother to be and any existing children. Chemically dependent women will not be accepted but referred to an appropriate agency.

Agency Goal: Family violence intervention. The agency believes that through education and behavioral change, family violence can be stopped. Particular emphasis and support is given to rape victims.

Paid Staff: 25

Volunteers: 120

Established: 1974

Annual Operating Budget: $800,000

Funded: Taxes on every California marriage license must stay in the county in which the license was issued. The $20 tax per license is required by law to go to domestic violence agencies. These funds are the bedrock of Women's Resource Center. United Way, California's Office of Criminal Justice Planning, private donations, community groups and fund-raisers offer other financial resources. The city of Oceanside also charges the center only $1 for rent per year.

Some of the Services Provided: A confidential, 30-day shelter for women and their children who are victims of domestic violence; a second shelter for single women and for homeless women and their children; support and accompaniment for rape victims from the time they are brought in to a hospital for a physical examination to advocacy during court proceedings and counseling; family intervention program for perpetrators of domestic violence; numerous counseling groups for clients of sexual assault and domestic violence; a full-time domestic violence and sexual assault educator who spends half her time in schools and the other half with community agencies and groups like the Soroptimists and Vista Newcomers; self-defense classes; an extensive referral system to other agencies.

Community Resource Center

650 2nd St., Encinitas

Calls: 753-8300

Center Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Food distribution from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday.

People Served: Low- to moderate-income families, senior citizens from Carlsbad to Del Mar. Services offered in English and Spanish.

Statistics: In 1991, more than 21,000 clients were served.

Fees for Services: On a sliding scale.

Appointments: Appointments are preferable, but it varies from program to program. People in crisis who drop in without an appointment will be squeezed into the daily schedule.

Requirements: Clients receiving food must fill out a brief application, giving their name, the city they live in and the number of people in their family.

Agency Goal: To provide short-term emergency food and crisis intervention.

Paid Staff: 18

Volunteers: 1,500

Established: 1979

Annual Operating Budget: Approximately $900,000.

Funded: The center receives monies from private donations, church contributions, revenue from the center's five thrift stores, client fees, small grants and a community development block grant.

Some of the Services Provided: Emergency food; crisis intervention for child and spousal abuse; case management; legal advice; counseling; referral system.

Lifeline Community Services

200 Jefferson St., Vista

Calls: 726-4900

Center Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Legal clinic Thursday evenings by appointment.

People Served: Low-income individuals and families in North County. Services offered in English and Spanish.

Statistics: Approximately 3,000 households were served in 1991.

Fees for Services: Sliding scale for counseling.

Appointments: No appointment necessary. If an appointment is made and the client is late, that's considered a no-show.

Requirements: Clients must fill out a general information sheet to receive emergency food and an agreement not to bring children to counseling sessions. Agency is not likely to assist with emergency food if client is abusing drugs or alcohol.

Agency Goal: To help clients work toward self-sufficiency.

Paid Staff: 80

Volunteers: 130

Established: 1970

Annual Operating Budget: Approximately $1 million.

Funded: The center receives monies from the county, United Way, private donations and foundations, North County Transit District.

Some of the Services Provided: Counseling for any situation from AIDS to individual and family; an extensive youth service component with a gang alternative program that goes into the schools; mediation; parenting classes; senior citizen services such as shared housing; emergency food provided for a maximum of 10 days offered to a family twice a year that coincides with case management; prescription vouchers; transportation vouchers; transportation for senior citizens and disabled people anywhere in North County; basic problem solving; operates inclement-weather shelter at the Vista Armory; large information and referral network with other agencies.

Oceanside Community Action Corp.

605 San Diego St., Oceanside

Calls: 757-7011

Center Hours: 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

People Served: Low- or no-income individuals and families in North County. Services offered in English and Spanish.

Statistics: The center's food bank assists more than 100,000 people each year; about 5,000 people annually are seen in the counseling programs; about 50 families a year participate in the day-care program.

Fees for Services: None.

Appointments: Appointments are preferable, but drop-in crisis counseling is available.

Requirements: No particular requirements.

Agency Goal: To help clients identify their strengths and to utilize them to become self-sufficient.

Paid Staff: Less than 10.

Volunteers: More than 300.

Established: More than 20 years ago.

Annual Operating Budget: In excess of $1 million.

Funded: The center receives monies from county, federal and state levels, holds two large fund-raisers each year, private donations.

Some of the Services Provided: Operates the North County Food Co-Op out of San Marcos and supplies donated foods and USDA surplus commodities to 22 other service agencies in North County; every third Thursday is "Cheese Day" where clients--based on income--can receive a bag of surplus groceries from the Oceanside center; an adult ex-offender program where pre-release classes are taught at the County Jail in Vista to help soon-to-be released inmates assimilate to society, get a job and come to terms with their conviction; migrant program that teaches survival skills of living in a new country, including getting a checking account, employment, housing and bus tokens; crisis counseling; assistance with filling out forms for insurance, unemployment and other benefits; a three-day supply of emergency food that coincides with budget counseling; a 26-child day-care center to help parents who are working or going to school full-time who cannot afford child care; SSI advocacy; daily job classes in which creating a resume and filling out an employment application are taught; an on-sight job bank with message center and mail box service; forms assistance for senior citizens.

North Inland Neighborhood Recovery Center

620 N. Ash, Escondido

Calls: 741-7708

Center Hours: 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday.

People Served: Anyone whose life has been affected by alcohol and its related problems. Services offered in English and Spanish.

Statistics: About 3,000 people a month use the center.

Fees for Services: None.

Appointments: None. Participants of this social model program are often referred by an employer or the courts.

Requirements: The recovery center requires that no alcoholic beverages be allowed on the premises. If a person does come to the center inebriated, he or she will be taken by a volunteer to services where they could detoxify.

Agency Goal: To provide a safe, sober and supportive environment for people affected by alcohol and its problems.

Paid Staff: 4

Volunteers: 50

Established: 1982

Annual Operating Budget: $177,000

Funded: The center pays $1 a year rent to the city of Escondido. It receives money from San Diego County Alcohol and Drug Services; private donations, fund-raisers.

Some of the Services Provided: The self-help recovery program offers alcohol education and information; more than 128 classes and groups a month, including anger management, assertiveness, Alcoholics Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Children of Alcoholics, Co-Dependence Anonymous, Over Eaters Anonymous, Sex Addictions Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous; one-on-one support with a counselor or recovering alcoholic peer; a hot line (739-RAP) operated by more than 50 trained teen-agers from 3-9 p.m., Monday-Friday, for other teen-agers to call to discuss any type of problem or crisis; referral service to other agencies.

Centro Community Services

1500 E. Valley Parkway, Suite H, Escondido

Calls: 746-3920

Center Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

People Served: Individuals or families below the poverty line. Services offered in English and Spanish.

Statistics: In 1991, provided services to 2,824 new clients. Fifty percent of the clients receiving food assistance are Latino, 50% are white or other. Ninety percent of clients receiving assistance with filling out forms are Latino, 10% are other.

Fees for Services: None.

Appointments: Appointments are preferable, but drop-in clients are accepted. Clients are often referred by other agencies.

Requirements: A screening process to determine eligibility is required. Acceptance also requires an assessment of client needs, which includes client creating his or her own goals.

Agency Goal: To help clients identify their strengths and to utilize them to become self-sufficient.

Paid Staff: 6

Volunteers: 35

Established: 1973

Annual Operating Budget: $129,000

Funded: The center receives monies from San Diego County Community Action Partnerships, Department of Social Services, United Way, city of Escondido, private donations.

Some of the Services Provided: Emergency food assistance twice a year in conjunction with case management; bread distribution once a week; assisting clients with filling out various forms including applications for social security and welfare benefits, INS, income tax and jobs; extensive referral service to other agencies.

Casa De Amparo

4070 Mission Ave., Oceanside

Calls: 757-1200

Center Hours: 24-hours a day.

People Served: Abused or neglected children, newborn to 17 years old.

Statistics: Serve between 600 and 800 children a year.

Fees for Services: None.

Appointments: Children are brought to the agency by police, court system or county Department of Social Services.

Requirements: Child removed from home for being at risk of physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

Agency Goal: To protect the child, reunite the family if possible, or find suitable alternative placement for child.

Paid Staff: 56

Volunteers: 257

Established: 1978

Annual Operating Budget: $1.3 million

Funded: The center receives monies from Aid for Families With Dependent Children, community support and private donations.

Some of the Services Provided: A 26-bed, 7- to 90-day shelter for children up to 17 year old who have been physically or emotionally abused; counseling for children and the whole family; etiquette classes for children who may be placed in foster homes, and classes on how to get along in a new environment; a free crisis day-care center operated from 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday that works to keep families intact by allowing the child to stay at home by having the parents become involved in counseling; free child care is also provided for six months for parents actively seeking employment as long as they also participate in parenting and home-management classes.

YMCA Oz North Coast, 1212 Oak Ave., Carlsbad

Calls: 729-4926

Center Hours: 24-hours a day.

People Served: North County teen-agers, aged 12-17, in crisis from low- to moderate-income families.

Statistics: About 150 teen-agers per year stay in this six-bed, two-week shelter.

Fees for Services: Sliding scale. If parent or guardian refuses to pay and the teen-ager has no income, fees are waived.

Appointments: Teen-agers occasionally drop in, but most call the hot line first. Clients are also referred by their own parents, police, probation department, social services.

Requirements: Clients have to be assessed for appropriateness in this voluntary placement program. Clients must agree to stay and participate in the program. They sign a number of contracts including an agreement not to take drugs or alcohol and to submit to a drug test if there is a suspicion of substance abuse. Parental permission is sought whenever possible but is not required by state law.

Agency Goal: The goal is to reunite teen-ager and family whenever possible.

Paid Staff: 12

Volunteers: 30

Established: 1975

Annual Operating Budget: $300,000

Funded: The center receives monies from Health and Human Services, county and local levels, private donations, fees from clients; fund-raisers, private donations.

Some of the Services Provided: Two-week residential care and eight-weeks of after-care for boys and girls who are in some sort of crisis, whether they are runaways or have been thrown out of their homes; work toward emancipation for older teen-agers (16 and 17 years) if necessary; assist in goal setting, how to interact with peers and adults; educational seminars and speakers for teen-agers and parents; counseling for parents and teen-agers; on-sight teacher who assigns course work geared to teen-agers' grade-level if they do not have assignments from their own school; a 90-day follow-up, referral service to other agencies.

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