Earlier this month I enjoyed participating in a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored "conversation" with my friend, Carson City Mayor Lori Bagwell, who discussed a number of issues our capital city is dealing with, including the vexing challenge of homelessness.
Although Bagwell advocated a compassionate approach to the homeless, she urged us NOT to give money to panhandlers, who infest several busy street corners in our town. Instead, the mayor said homeless people should be directed to Friends in Service Helping (FISH) and other charitable organizations that provide services to people willing to help themselves improve their lives.
During the Chamber event, I met Ellen Jackson, the Inspirational executive director of Spirit of Hope, Inc., a low-profile, non-profit organization that provides housing for the homeless. "We follow the 'housing first' model as a solution to homelessness by connecting homeless people to housing and services," Jackson told me.
She and her husband, a mental health professional, came to Carson in 2006 and soon realized there was a need for housing for the homeless in our city. Although the Jacksons had three daughters of their own, they adopted five more children while at the same time the highly motivated mother of eight located rental homes and apartments for homeless people, who paid rent with their Social Security checks.
"On any given night there are more than 1,000 homeless individuals, including many women and children, in our area,” Jackson said, adding there was an increase of nearly 30 percent in the local homeless population last year. Most of her clients are seniors because 25 percent of Nevada seniors live alone, and many of them have difficulty staying in their homes.
She incorporated Spirit of Hope as a non-profit in 2010 and today her program provides housing for 50 formerly homeless people in a dozen homes and apartments scattered around Carson City. Social Security pays the rent while the city and charitable organizations provide needed goods and services. FISH offers additional housing and food while another low-profile charity, The Dream Center, provides food, cleaning supplies and appliances.
Jackson, who employs four case workers to keep track of her clients' issues and needs, told me that more than 80 percent of her clients are able to change their lives and become productive citizens once they have a roof over their heads. I met one of those formerly homeless clients, 66-year-old "Ethel," last week and learned that after a series of personal setbacks in Northern California and Arkansas, where she was alone and depressed, she ended up "literally starving to death" on the streets of Reno in early 2019.
Someone who knew about the Spirit of Hope program called Jackson and after a 30-minute interview, Jackson took Ethel to her new group home in Carson City. "Ellen is my angel," Ethel said. "She saved my life. It was too good to be true."
Now Ethel is enjoying her new, stress-free life and acting as a caregiver for an older woman who lives in the same house.
Like other Spirit of Hope clients, Ethel went through a detailed intake process to qualify for services. That process measures the level of care needed, medication requirements and outside services needed. House rules, Jackson explained, include no drugs or alcohol, and no "hanky panky," she said with a smile. Anyone who violates those rules is dropped from the program.
"The Lord called me to do this," said Jackson, a devout Christian. She would welcome donations of bedding, toiletries, clothing and other household items and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 775-461-3331.
Guy W. Farmer, a retired diplomat, has been a Carson City resident since 1962.