ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — The City of Newport Beach recently awarded a one-year, $30,000 grant to help connect area homeless people to community service projects.
The city sought out Trellis International, a Costa Mesa-based nonprofit led by Ian Stevenson. Stevenson founded the organization in 2011, launched it as a 501(c)(3) in 2013, and became the first full-time member in 2015.
At first, Trellis International helped organize a local check-in where homeless people could safely leave their belongings. A few years later, they launched a “Community Impact Team,” the program to which Newport Beach just gave a grant. The team holds weekly meetings where homeless people can find out what projects are available. Once a task is completed, they are rewarded with a gift card from a local business.
Projects can be a valuable source of structure and community for some people, Stevenson explained. But it’s not for everyone. Some people are not physically or mentally well enough to perform the tasks.
“What team meetings do is allow them to see the possibilities,” Stevenson said. “If they want to move on, they can see how to do it.”
Trellis International staff help coordinate and manage projects. They also troubleshoot and help obtain identification and even help connect program people to permanent housing.
The hope is that routine can lead to permanent jobs for some. For others, including those unable to participate in projects, it is a safe space to connect with other needed services. Stevenson noted that they are able to get the word out through the registration service they help run, providing them with enough people to complete any projects.
Stevenson added that the “community impact team” model has been operating in Costa Mesa since around 2014, borrowing from existing programs in Los Angeles.
The nonprofit also uses other models. It has partnered with the cities of Irvine and Orange on separate service events that combine corporate sponsorships with volunteers to work on city projects. Love Irvine Day – an annual event – mobilized around 600 volunteers for 29 projects last year. Love Orange Week has yet to kick off, Stevenson said, but he expects it to be a week-long event. Neither is expressly aimed at the homeless, but both use the same principles.
“We’re trying to keep this idea of collaboration alive,” he said. “How do churches, businesses, cities work better together? So much good stuff is happening, but it’s usually uncoordinated and nobody talks to each other.”
Towns in the county have become creative in their approach to the growing number of homeless people.
Homelessness is a burning issue for many local governments, and meetings with agenda items on the subject are often the busiest and busiest of the year. Newport Beach is no different. In recent years, the city has stepped up its efforts to reduce the number of homeless people on the streets by making joint investments with Costa Mesa in a bridge shelter. The city is also looking at properties where the homeless could possibly be housed.
The challenge for cities has been locating people who need help, keeping in touch with them, and building enough trust to finally deliver services. The “Community Impact Team” is another tool to achieve some of the same goals.
But for Stevenson, it’s less about service and more about returning a sense of dignity.
“For people who are homeless, they have lost a lot of hope,” he said. “We want them to see they can make a difference.”