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Building New Lives

news3Local shelter and treatment center looks to the community for donations this holiday season

Forty years ago, a local church ministry group began reaching out to homeless people struggling with addiction and taking them into their homes. But they soon realized that the need was larger (and that taking people into your home wasn’t the best idea), and the effort soon grew into a state-licensed, non-religious family shelter and addiction treatment facility known as New Life Community Services. The center has been operating on the Westside for 38 years, says volunteer Mike O’Brien.

With community concerns about homelessness and drug abuse reaching a boiling point, O’Brien says New Life Community Services remains a unique piece of the solution puzzle. 

What sets them apart from traditional shelters, O’Brien says, is that they don’t take in just any homeless person from anywhere—they focus only on local families with children who are in times of crisis and are seeking permanent solutions to their situation. Stays are typically short, he says.

“If a family loses their apartment or home and literally has nowhere to go, instead of them having to go to a shelter with 100 single individuals from all over [the place], they can come here and have their own safe space, and not be disconnected from their children,” he says.

New Life is a place your neighbor might come if they experience homelessness, says O’Brien. “Especially in this economy, a lot of families have hit times they never expected to, and it’s amazing how many married couples and single parents with children don’t have any outside support,” he says. New Life provided 2,000 days of shelter to 100 families with children in 2011, and served 112,000 meals from its kitchen.

Those staying at the shelter meet routinely with the shelter coordinator and are expected to be “making progress.” This means searching for a job if they are unemployed, saving money, and, if necessary, participating in drug and alcohol treatment.

Their driving philosophy is embodied in the name, New Life: the center aims to help people get back on their feet by assisting them in creating long-term life changes, like employment, housing, and recovery.

Those enrolled in New Life treatment programs must also be employed or actively searching for work.

“When you are having to work and deal with life’s issues while you’re in treatment, it’s found to be more successful than basically taking a 30-day vacation and not having to deal with all of that,” O’Brien says, adding that the average treatment stay at New Life is six months, instead of the usual 30 days. “They are stronger when they leave.” In 2011, more than 200 clients received more than 10,000 days of residential treatment at New Life.

Through donations and other funding, New Life is able to subsidize its treatment so that it costs $900 for 30 days, compared to what O’Brien says is a standard amount of $9,000. “If you don’t have insurance or someone supporting you financially who can pay that, you’re out of luck,” he says. “This is the place where all of those people come because we provide their living situation, food, educational classes, and counseling, and they can actually afford to do this with any job.”

However, the economic downturn has created budgetary stress for the center. Its state and county funding, which has totaled about 40 percent of its budget in recent years, has decreased. Yet New Life finds that more people need their services as a result of the tough economy. More than ever, it is looking to individual and corporate donations, which have historically made up the majority of its funding.

The nonprofit is in the midst of its annual Call To Care Campaign to raise money for next year’s budget, with the added bonus that an anonymous group of 12 donors has promised to match up to $24,000 in donations that come in before Jan. 1, 2013. They are also raising money by selling Christmas trees at 3020 Thurber Lane, Santa Cruz, through Dec. 25. The tree lot is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m.–8 p.m.

For the families staying at the center over the holidays, New Life gives gifts to all of the children and to parents in treatment, as well. “We do our best to make it a good Christmas for all of our families in crisis,” O’Brien says.


To learn more about the Call to Care Campaign, visit calltocarecampaign.org. To learn more about New Life, including about their bi-weekly open house tours, visit newlifesc.org.

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