Cindy Maple: A decade of devotion to helping homeless people (VIDEO)
Just over 10 years ago there was no emergency shelter in Nevada County. If you encountered a homeless person on the street, through your work or in your church, there was no safe place you could refer them.
Our family shelter has always been full with a wait list, so you might have even encountered a family.
Working for Social Services back then, I met dozens of homeless people; families with children, older people, teenagers timed out of the foster care system, veterans.
I couldn’t help them; I couldn’t even offer them a sleeping bag or a place to shower.
Fear, hopelessness, desperation. These were the emotions I saw reflected in the eyes of each homeless person I had to turn back out into the elements. People just like you and me, because homelessness doesn’t discriminate.
Then miraculous happened. On a rainy day in November 2004, I sat at a kitchen table with Utah Phillips, Joanna Robinson, Karen Turpening and Margaret Little.
That day we decided that in spite of the fact there was zero zoning for homeless shelters in our county, we were going to start a shelter. A year later, Hospitality House opened its doors.
Our first shelter night was hosted by Nevada City United Methodist Church. We had eight guests and about 40 volunteers. Over the years we were joined in this service by 28 area faith communities and hundreds of volunteers.
We had no idea on that rainy day in November how much our community would wrap their arms around our homeless — around Hospitality House.
Ten years later, Hospitality House has helped more than 2,000 homeless individuals, including hundreds of children. A total of 107,571 shelter bed-nights and 322,713 meals have been provided.
All of these meals were lovingly purchased, prepared, and served by volunteers.
Without a doubt we’ve had what felt like insurmountable challenges, but we’ve also had amazing successes.
We won a million dollar grant that allowed us to purchase a 6,500-square-foot building that is now a 54-bed shelter known as Utah’s Place.
We have on-site medical care, housing case management, healing workshops, and a culinary job training program.
All of these programs are geared to help people end their condition of homelessness and we can proudly say we’ve assisted hundreds of people into permanent housing.
Soon we will have a thrift store that will not only help with needed income to support our shelter, but will provide another job training program for our guests.
But this amazing work doesn’t come without heartache. I’ve seen people die both inside the shelter and outside in camps. In spite of all of our good work, there are still people living in deplorable conditions; people in need of help they often can’t find.
At some point in each of their lives, something — some event or a series of events — caused them to spiral down so far they’ve accepted a fate that no human being deserves. People — all of us — need to feel valued in this world; we need to feel there is hope.
The work to end homelessness in this county is far from being done.
Developing low-income housing options has to become a priority in order to accomplish this, with elected officials, developers, citizens. We all have a stake in this in our community.
Hospitality House has been an important part of the solution for 10 years. We are incredibly thankful for the support we’ve received from our donors, faith communities and volunteers.
We absolutely could not have made it this far without them.
A small, dedicated group of people truly can change the world. Five like-minded people sat down at a kitchen table one day and decided to make a difference.
We had no idea how important this shelter would become to our homeless residents or how many lives would be saved.
As a co-founder and executive director, I’m truly blessed to have experienced the miracle that is Hospitality House.
It’s been the most challenging work I’ve ever done, but I’ve shared this journey with some incredibly resilient, courageous, and generous people that include our guests, staff and volunteers.
From them I’ve learned how strong the human spirit is, how profoundly kind people are, how healing can happen even in the darkest of circumstances. This is the miracle of Hospitality House.
I hope and pray a light will always shine from its windows, offering those in need warmth, comfort and healing.
Cindy Maple is executive director at Hospitality House.
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