SAFE advocate and supporter Linda Campbell knows the clock is ticking when it comes to children and young adults experiencing homelessness.
Every week – and, in some cases, every day – matters. A lot.
“If we don’t catch them now, they may be homeless forever,” she says of her efforts and those of others to help youth dealing with housing instability through Bright Futures for Youth’s SAFE program.
Indeed, about half of adults experiencing homelessness today faced housing instability as a child. Campbell and several friends in Lake Wildwood in Penn Valley are committed to making a difference – and ending generational homelessness.
Campbell and her three close friends – Ali McKeon-Alexander, Denise Stein and Clydene Hohenrieder – educate their friends, neighbors and others in the community about the issue and the SAFE program, and encourage monthly donations and other ways to help.
Campbell recently donated a dining room set to SAFE for a house for those who are experiencing homelessness. Her friends also often find ways to support the SAFE program, from donating directly or helping raise funds to volunteering. They know the sooner, the better in the fight against homelessness.
“There are many more kids who are struggling today,” says Campbell, a retired teacher from Temecula who knows firsthand the issues that young people face. “They have more insurmountable problems (today than just a decade ago).”
Campbell and her husband, Bob, a retired high school psychology and philosophy teacher, helped students deal with and overcome challenges for decades in Southern California. Broken homes, depression, homelessness were familiar issues.
So, when the couple moved to Nevada County to be closer to their adult sons, they wanted to be active in the community, but weren’t sure how. Until, Campbell came across the SAFE program and its efforts to assist youth faced with housing instability, a fast-growing problem in Nevada County.
“It really blew my mind,” Campbell says when she learned about the issue. “And many of my friends didn’t know youth were having such trouble.”
Now, they do – and her friends have joined the effort to address homelessness, a hard-to-see issue in Nevada County, where small cities and towns are surrounded by nature compared to the obvious problem in nearby Sacramento and other large cities in California. Plus, the definition of “housing instability” can be vague. Youth experiencing homelessness are often couch surfing with family members or friends, living in hotels, sleeping in a vehicle, or maybe even staying in a shed or trailer without electricity or plumbing – not just living on the street.
The SAFE program has assisted more than 200 youth (under 25 years old) since the program was started in 2019. And SAFE case managers currently meet with several dozen youth experiencing homelessness every week.
The effort is impossible without donors and supporters like Campbell, McKeon-Alexander, Stein and Hohenrieder. Their endless endless energy and outreach to encourage more people to become involved has turned the one-time pilot program into a success story.
“When I do ask (people to get involved), I get a good response,” says Campbell, whose golf group filled stockings with gifts during the holiday season. “If I ask, they come.”
Of course, she occasionally hears comments from those who don’t understand the complexities of homelessness.
“After I get talking to them, I can change their minds,” says Campbell, who bristles at the all-too-common belief that young adults experiencing homelessness are lazy and don’t want to work or get an education. “We just need to make an example of those who are doing well and overcoming challenges.”
And there are some excellent examples of young people who are attending college or have found a job – or both – through SAFE. But all young people experiencing homelessness need some kind of support, from ensuring access to health care and counseling or finding critical documents, such as a birth certificate or a Social Security Number.
“We have to make them self-sustainable,” says Campbell, who would like to help SAFE establish a jobs-mentorship program. “They must learn so many things, like help with their finances. It’s amazing when you find them and they succeed.”
Campbell’s compassion for others stems from her late-father, who stressed the importance of helping others.
“I had the most amazing father,” says Campbell, who compares her childhood growing up in Southern California as a Leave It to Beaver kind of family, referring to the classic late-1950s and early-1960s TV show. “I’m very lucky, I had a great dad and I have a great husband.”
Campbell, her husband and friends in Lake Wildwood, are making a big difference in the lives of children and young adults experiencing homelessness – and in the future of Nevada County.
“We can all make small steps, it just takes time,” she says. “Look at what you can do to help a young person’s life.”