Shelter in the Storm

by Lisa Bethune, January 20, 2015

Wednesday, November 19, 2014, was forecast to be the beginning of several days of intense rain, with dire flooding forecast throughout the Humboldt county area. Betty knew that many of the homeless people she cared for lived in wetland areas that would most likely end up flooding. She went to each of the camps, and at each camp, the group decided who would stay and watch over the camp, and who needed to go to higher ground with Betty. When Betty was finished, she had 134 people that needed a place to stay.

At 5:00 a.m., Betty made two phone calls to former homeless people that she had helped get housing and jobs two years prior. She told them that she needed help, that she had a lot of people that needed housing during the storms, and she had no where to put them. They told Betty that they would see what they could do. They started making phone calls, and every hour they reported back to Betty, giving her addresses of other former homeless people that were willing to take people in, putting them up in either an extra room or their garage. By 11:00 a.m. they had found 40 places. By 2:00 they had found a total of 51 host families, enough to fill the need for all 134 people. One family took in seven people. When Betty objected, saying that was too much, the family told her, “Remember, this happened to us a year ago.” They set up their garage and put some of the people in there.

As Betty and others delivered people to homes from Fortuna to McKinleyville, she told each person that they had to follow the host’s rules. She told the hosts that if at any point it wasn’t working, they could call her and she would come pick the people up. Betty thought that this arrangement would be needed for about a week, but it ended up lasting for more than a month, as the rains continued.

During this time, Betty visited the different homes, offering to help the host families with extra food and money for utilities. Betty has always said that God knows what she needs and He provides it. Unbeknownst to Betty, St. Bernard’s school was in the middle of their first canned food drive for her, and the abundance of canned food they collected was delivered to her during this time, just when she needed it most.

While Betty checked on her clients, many of which have mental illness or medical needs, she noticed that many of their personalities and physical appearances had changed a lot while staying in a stable place. Betty was surprised to see that even if someone had a mental issue, they could stay in a house, help out and keep it clean. Most of these people had never lived a normal life, in a clean house. They had had no guidance in the past, growing up in very dysfunctional families. Her clients were being mentored in a way that only someone who had walked in their shoes could. Betty knew she was witnessing such great human love, one to another, for this to be able to happen.

The host families were also teaching them how to budget their money so they could stay off of the streets. The host families didn’t want to have to send these people back to the streets, so they started looking for ways to help them succeed. As of mid-January, 54 out of the 134 people that Betty first moved now have permanent housing. Through word of mouth, the host families helped them find a room to rent or share, and taught them how they can manage to pay the rent each month. The twenty that have chosen to leave were told by their hosts that they are always welcome to come back.

There is nothing more powerful than human connection. These host families used their own experiences to teach their guests. They told Betty, “I’ve been in that place and you pulled me out. Now it is our turn to pay it back.” We all have the opportunity each day to plant seeds of human kindness, and we will never know when or how those seeds will blossom. With all of the sadness that Betty sees on the streets every day, this experience has fed her soul and recharged her batteries. Our gratitude and blessings to everyone that opened their hearts and their homes to people in need. We are nothing without community. You inspire us all!