News and Events
Helping the Homeless in Malibu
By Amy Hunter
A trailer sits in the parking lot of the Malibu, California courthouse. Around it each morning, men and women gather and wait for a chance to work. Supported by the city's efforts to give homeless and struggling individuals a chance to get back on their feet, these "day laborers" eye an approaching Saab with anticipation.
A young couple emerges from the car. Daniel Packman, an independent design contractor, is seeking someone to help with a building project at their home nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains. His wife, Hollie, carries flats of pastries donated by Starbucks to those eager to work. She smiles, calling some by name and welcoming others.
Daniel makes an offer for work to a twenty-eight-year-old man named Frank. The three return to the car and head home to start on the project.
As each day passed, Hollie and Daniel heard more of Frank's story. Their eyes and hearts were opened to a world where people, either through choice or circumstance, went from having everything to having nothing. Every night, the Packmans returned Frank to his "home" under the bridge in Malibu before retiring to their own comfortable beds. The stark contrast of Frank's and their own existence, seemed surreal and unnerving.
As a pre-med student attending college on scholarship and living modestly with his father, Frank had dreams of being a doctor. Frank's mother died when he was only 18 months old, so his father meant the world to him. A sudden heart attack not only took his father's life, but also left Frank without family and, eventually, without a home. He lived in his car until it was mistakenly towed away, and eventually he was forced to quit school. Frank, hopeless and alone, soon found himself living on the streets, addicted to drugs and alcohol.
"When you take away family and a couple of paychecks, it (homelessness) could happen to anyone," said Hollie, a Pepperdine University graduate.
After earning a master's in communication from Seaver College in 1997, Hollie spent four years as a communication consultant in a large firm, quickly working her way to the top. She regularly guided CEOs and presidents of large companies in their communication and planning processes. Successful beyond expectation, she and Daniel did very well for themselves.
"We never intended to start a homeless outreach," Hollie said. "We got to know Frank, and then we got to know Winston, and then we got to know Kevin, and then Keith, and Sonia. And all of the sudden, we knew all these people."
In the fall of 2000, the Packmans gathered for the first time with twelve Malibu homeless people outside Diedrich's coffee shop. "We didn't buy anyone coffee or hand out Bibles, we just had the best time and became friends," Hollie said.
As those relationships grew, the rigor of Hollie's job began to weigh heavily on her. She left the firm to establish her own business, Studio 8 Consulting. As an executive coach and corporate trainer, her time became divided between meeting with CEOs and working with and befriending men and women living on the streets.
"My friends understood because they know my heart," she said. "My family was a little concerned about my safety meeting with the homeless, and my clients thought I was nuts."
As winter approached, the number of people huddling outside Diedrich's grew, forcing the friends to move up the road to the Malibu Vineyard Church. The group soon evolved into S.O.S. Ministries, which provides emergency services, advocacy, mentoring, and a sense of community for homeless individuals living in Malibu. S.O.S. stands for "Standing on Stone," a line from a poem composed by a local homeless man about his own healing process.
Currently, every Tuesday between forty and sixty people meet to share a meal and participate in a spiritual and intellectual discussion. The time offers the lost and broken something of indescribable value—a place to belong.
"I first started coming to just get something to eat," said a former homeless man named Rich. "For the first six months I came drunk and wasted and couldn't care less about anything else going on. But as Hollie and Daniel started befriending me, I wanted to get better, I wanted to live again. I was dead, and they breathed life and hope into me."
Now Rich is a partner in a window washing business, has a home, is sober and continues to support those who are struggling.
Hollie said the goal is to help people become ready to transition back to a normal lifestyle. "We see it as a continuum where willingness and hope are fostered through meeting physical needs, then building community, accountability, advocacy, and finally mentoring."
When people are ready to make a change, there are still many things that need mending, which can be as simple as fixing teeth that have been destroyed by drug use, or as complex as mending severed relationships. S.O.S. leaders will often go to the DMV, hospital or courtroom and wait with individuals as a form of advocacy.
"I was down at the DMV all day," said John, one of the individuals in transition. "I was with Sophia trying to get her a California driver's license, but we couldn't do it. They needed a birth certificate and she lost hers."
Winston, now sober for ten years chimed in, "Talk to Hollie. She can get you a new birth certificate in two days. Normally it takes six months, but she's amazing."
The willingness to spend time with individuals in need seems to be the most powerful message Hollie, Daniel, Jeremy Jenny, Jaime Janner and the recovered homeless volunteers can send. As hope and security increase, individuals are prepared to reunite with family or agree to start long-term treatment programs to get back on their feet.
"We feel like we have an opportunity to be the ‘good enough' parent to adults who have never had family," Hollie said. "When there is a crisis or a birthday, we're there, and it's not an insincere thing. It's genuine because we know and love these people."
She noted that at least one member of the leadership team is available every day of the week for individuals to talk to or meet with. And on Tuesday nights, "we always introduce new faces and ask everyone how their week was." Introductions are followed by a Bible study, but it's not "preachy." The conversational style of study allows individuals to both connect with and challenge one another.
"I strongly believe that we're seeing them beginning to change because there is a constant meeting place," she said. "Helping the poor in Malibu is a totally manageable thing. I can know a hundred people by name and truly love them. We here, as a community, have a huge opportunity to impact lives and not just provide emergency services."
Hollie pointed out that the number one prayer request for group members is for work. Nearly seventy percent of the Malibu homeless work or attempt to get work every week. She added that only five percent of the homeless population in Malibu is mentally ill, whereas in surrounding areas that number is much higher.
Dr. Gary Gonsalves does regular health screenings for the homeless gives them simple advice to stay healthy. He is available at all times for S.O.S., and is amazed by its success.
"I've worked with the poor, battered women and children and the homeless before, but I've never seen things happen like they do here," he said. "Prayers are answered in this place"
Hollie and Daniel have endured hours of tears and frustration to stand by these individuals. But from all the disappointment, there comes exceedingly great hope. "They're phenomenal people, and when the drugs and alcohol go away and you start to see them, it's like, ‘Oh my gosh…there he is, there he is!' It is almost like watching a birth."
Today, more of Hollie's time is invested in S.O.S. than in her business, but she says that the bills get paid somehow. Initially, she and Daniel supported the $5,000 a month budget, but today the organization, which is working toward non-profit status, enjoys the support of many individuals from various churches in the area. "We don't always know where the money is going to come from," Hollie said, "But it is always there."
Celebrities and community members also provide food on a regular basis for the ministry. Various Pepperdine groups, from upper administrative teams to the Hawaii club, give time and money to serve and prepare meals. Starbucks, Ralphs and other local businesses donate food and vouchers.
Last year, students from Pepperdine, in association with National Hunger and Homelessness week, worked to gather small things like pens and paper, socks and snacks to be given to the homeless in the area. And this year, Mike Sprague, coordinator of the Pepperdine student volunteer involvement with S.O.S., is planning a sock drive among other activities to help rally support in an even greater way.
Many of the people whose lives have been changed through S.O.S. also feel led to give back to others when they can. "You've got to repay things once in awhile," said Ralph, who is working full-time now and looking for a new place to live. His best friend Winston, who just received a copyright for an invention, added, "Not everyone on the road is out to get something. A lot of them, like Ralph here, give to other people."
While S.O.S. continues to help individuals on their way to reaching success, they hope to one day establish a small residential life skills school. Hollie and Daniel believe that individuals often need a safe place to move forward with a lot of one-on-one mentoring and consistent support. "We accomplish our mission by investing heavily in each person's overall wellness," Hollie said.
To find out more about the organization and volunteer or donation opportunities, visit the S.O.S. Ministries Web site at www.SOSmalibu.com, or call (818) 880-6372.
This story first appeared in the Pepperdine Voice Magazine, Winter 2003.