We’re All One Tragedy Away
Program Management Analyst - County of Ventura
It's hard to believe we are halfway through our VCLA sessions. Each one has been incredibly impactful, and our most recent one on the unhoused and social safety nets was just as informative and eye-opening as our previous ones. Thank you, Pattie Braga (Cohort XVII), for your efforts in coordinating such meaningful sessions.
We began our day at the County of Ventura's Hall of Administration. Many thanks to my fellow County team members, Continuum of Care Program Director, Jenn Harkey (Cohort XXVII), Acting Director of VCBH, Dr. Loretta Denering, , and Sergeant John Hajducko of VCSO's Narcotics Bureau, for their informative presentations on homelessness and supportive housing, mental illness and substance use disorders, and the fentanyl crisis, respectively. There are clear intersections across these areas, and we are truly fortunate to have these leaders at the forefront of these efforts and collaborating to target efforts accordingly.
A few key points that stood out for me:
- The #1 source of homelessness is unaffordable housing. With significant rental increases since the pandemic, our seniors have been especially impacted as many are on a fixed source of income that simply is not enough to keep pace with the increases.
- Few people know that VCBH does a lot of great work with substance use prevention, including community education and overdose prevention kit distributions.
- The threat of Xylazine is now making it the "deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced" as it boosts the effects of Fentanyl
After our session at the County, we utilized our local bus system, Gold Coast Transit, to travel to our next site, the YMCA in Ventura. While I have used public transit systems in other countries and states, this was the first time I’ve taken a bus here in Ventura County, and it was a great experience. The YMCA was bustling with activity in the afternoon, providing vital programming for the community, especially for our youth and seniors.
We then traveled to Food Share, our county's regional food bank, located in Oxnard. I was especially excited about touring the warehouse, as our office had partnered with Food Share to expand access to food for families facing food insecurity during the pandemic. It was heartwarming to hear the stories and see the photos of the positive impacts of those additional pop-up sites. The Food Share team’s Jennifer Caldwell (Cohort XXIII and VCLA Board VP), Brian Fisher (Cohort XXVII), and Caitlin Barringer (Cohort XXV) provided an insightful presentation and tour of the distribution process and how they work with partner agencies to distribute almost 19 million pounds of food annually.
We also engaged in a friendly cohort competition to help fill “kitchenless” bags with food. A fun fact we learned: the need for "kitchenless" bags was highlighted by my former colleague and VCLA alum Tara Carruth (Cohort XXIII), as these items do not require a kitchen or supplies to prepare or open for unhoused individuals.
Lastly, we heard from Dr. Herb Gooch, CLU Professor Emeritus, Political Science, who provided a helpful overview of VC Politics.
The day's theme was level-setting common misconceptions in each of these critical areas as to who is impacted and why and highlighting the importance of interagency/organization collaboration. Many of us are truly just an illness, tragedy, or job loss away from needing some of these supports. One person can certainly make a difference, but it's clear that to amplify efforts, we all must work together to leverage our talents, skills, and knowledge to effect positive change and solve critical issues.