homeless outreach

In Montclair, Businesses, Churches and Nonprofits Come Together to Fight Homelessness

“A lot of people – they’re homeless not because they planned to be," said one formerly homeless individual.

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When Montclair homeless outreach teams first approached David Askey three years ago, it took multiple attempts for him to say yes.

“Cause I knew as soon as I got into that car, everything was going to change," Askey, who used to be homeless, said. "Everything. And it did.”

A photo shows Askey on what would become his first day of rehab in February of 2018, incapacitated due to drug use. He's clutching a black backpack, leaning back in a chair with his head lolling to the side, his mouth open and eyes glazed.

“I look at that and I’m like, man, I was that bad," Askey said. "I was pretty messed up."

Abigail Pennington, another formerly homeless individual in Montclair, is the first person who received help from the city's homeless initiative.

“I was like oh thank you, God, praise God," Pennington said.

The Montclair initiative brings together local businesses, churches and nonprofits from around the city, in an attempt to solve their own local homeless crisis.

For people like Pennington, that makes a huge difference.

Pennington moved back to California to take care of her daughter, an autistic, adult CalPoly student whose mental breakdown meant 24-hour care going forward. But the two had nowhere to sleep — until now.

“A lot of people – they’re homeless not because they planned to be," Pennington said.

It's why Montclair is dedicated to this approach.

“The community has to help out," said Donald Rucker, senior pastor at the Christian Development Center. "It does take a village.”

Rucker is just one of the many pastors who have been connecting people with mental health and drug services. He works with people like Gena Laine of Metro Honda, the local dealership that helped pay for Pennington's new trailer home.

"It’s about being a steward in the community and helping people in the community that need our help," Laine said.

The dealership is working to do the same with a trailer for Askey.

"“I love the refrigerator and the freezer, it’s so cute," said Pennington of her trailer.

Gabriel Fondario is head of the city of Montclair's code enforcement and homeless outreach program. According to him, a tip five years ago clicked: Montclair had everything it needed to help get people off the streets, on those streets.

“Every city, every county has their own unique resources and strengths and you need to tap into those," Fondario said. “Some things have to change in how we approach homelessness, and we’re trying to do it here."

And for Askey, it's already working.

“I actually put myself in position to run because I saw his badge," Askey admitted. He didn't run, and now, he's glad he stuck around for the help.

“You always hear about miracles," Askey said, choking up. "And I have one."

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