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Column: Serving People in Need works to end homelessness in costly O.C.

Homelessness is nothing short of epidemic in many of the country’s most prosperous regions, Orange County among them. With unemployment at record-low levels, we ask why are so many thousands living on the streets?

The reasons are varied, yet patently clear. First, low-wage and some middle-wage jobs do not support a sustainable living that can provide adequate housing, food and basic essentials. Second, substance abuse, coupled with untreated mental health issues, is undermining the collective health of this nation. Third, the situation has grown in sheer numbers so rapidly that government and private-sector agencies are ill-equipped to reverse the trend.

Finally, the family unit is fractured. The family unit in America once protected its own, regardless of race, religion, culture or national origin. Not so much today. Divided by many reasons, including separation and circumstance, people are fending for themselves and relying on assistance from wherever they can find it.

Clearly, finding real assistance that can be life-changing is difficult. Much of the aid available to the homeless is a Band-Aid. Government struggles to find suitable housing alternatives amid rising angst from overburdened taxpayers, resisting the placement of homeless housing in their neighborhoods, largely due to the fear of the significant population dealing with substance addiction. In spite of all the obstacles, there are small nonprofit agencies, some faith-based, others secular and humanitarian, that do make a difference. Mostly because they tackle the situation one case at a time.


In O.C., one of the most successful nonprofits focusing on reversing and/or preventing homelessness is Serving People In Need (SPIN). Headquartered in Costa Mesa, this faith-based, nonsectarian charity has faced this issue for more than 30 years. SPIN’s founders recognized the need before it became an epidemic.

Fast forward to 2017, when SPIN reported placing 517 Orange County adults and children in its housing program. According to SPIN Executive Director Jean Wegener, the task has become exponentially more challenging because finding clean, safe affordable housing is nothing short of Herculean.

Despite this roadblock, they succeed, and every one of those 517 people assisted were placed in secure housing, as well as being counseled and guided on employment, health, hygiene, financial management and other matters so that once placed in housing they would have the tools to succeed, become self-sufficient and restore their lives with dignity. SPIN proudly demonstrates a documented rate of success in the high 90% range.

“Let’s face it, our ability to prevent homelessness comes down to raising money,” Wegener says..


SPIN operates on a budget that counts on grants (75%) and community fundraising (25%).

“We watch every cent,” she adds continuing, “and more than 90% of what we raise goes directly to client services.”

SPIN recently held its annual community fund-raising dinner gala with a Bavarian “Oktoberfest” at the Newport Beach Country Club. The fall event welcomed 250 patrons, raising an estimated $325,000. The success was made possible in great part by SPIN’s dedicated underwriters, with special appreciation paid to presenting sponsors Keith and Florence Smith of Newport Beach. Over some 20 years of involvement with SPIN, the Smiths have contributed upward of a half million dollars, making them the single-largest donors, literally responsible for housing many people they will never know and who will never know them.

Joining the Smith family in significant donor support were Mary Lynn and John Rallis, Trish O’Donnell, Frank and Peggy Listi, Dick and Kim Crawford, Joe and Heidi Heffington, Curtis Scheets and Maureen Flanagan. Also front and center were major contributors Charles and Regina Granville, Wayne and MaryLou Shattuck, Sharad and Apoorva Bansal and Edward and Melanie Fitch.

The SPIN celebration began at dusk with patrons arriving for cocktails and fabulous hors d’oeuvres.They were entertained by the Linda Herman Bavarian Trio. Many SPIN guests chose to come in Oktoberfest costume. Beer maidens in traditional attire paraded through the ballroom lobby serving samples of German and American craft beers. Newport Beach Country Club staff passed canapes of smoked salmon on pumpernickel toast as the crowd surveyed a massive silent auction.

The ballroom doors opened as the guests gathered for the live auction and the “ask” preceded by an emotional address by a young woman rescued by SPIN, who shared her turnaround story.

Guests enjoyed a lavish Oktoberfest buffet featuring grilled brats hot off the barbecue, authentic goulash accompanied by red cabbage, potato pancakes and dill cucumber salad. A grand selection of Bavarian pastries was served for dessert.

Comic Bobby Collins headlined with a performance that had the guests in hysterics. Collins, a regular on the “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” flew in from New York and ultimately helped provide funding to house families and children in need coming forward in 2019.


To learn more about SPIN visit

B.W. COOK is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.