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People Helping People with Redding Bridges to Housing

10/25/2017 11:00AM ● By Sandie Tillery

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November 2017
By Sandie Tillery
Photos by Melissa Englebright

A young mom moved to Redding from North Carolina six years ago and quickly came face-to-face with the reality of people who live on the streets. At first, she was uncomfortable and worried about her four young boys in a city with people panhandling on street corners. One day, however, she stopped to talk with one of “those people.” The experience changed her perspective and her life. She started to ask questions, to make eye contact, to listen.

Melissa Englebright, a professional photographer, began to share stories and photographs on Facebook of the homeless folks she meets. She wants to highlight the

human side and “start a conversation,” she says, about the men and women who often feel stuck in their homelessness. Englebright has found that most people want to talk. They are really open, she says, when she approaches them with her camera and shows sincere interest in them. At first, she says, it was scary because of her own “lack of understanding.” She acknowledges the pervasive drug addiction and mental health contributors to homelessness and uses caution when approaching people, but also meets people who, simply because of life circumstances, feel hopeless to make a change.

Englebright has since linked up with Dr. Doug McMullin, a physician working with the HOPE program at Shasta Community Health Center. McMullin works with Project HOPE, “Health Outreach for People Everywhere,” along with other healthcare professionals and volunteers who take medical services to people, including the homeless, who can’t or won’t take themselves to the clinic. The HOPE Van takes the clinic to the people.

Since Englebright has partnered with McMullin, they have visited many homeless camps, often on his days off, looking especially for medically fragile folks who may be ready to receive help, move into temporary housing and work with a case manager from the HOPE program to improve their health and their prospects for a safe and independent life off the streets. 

She and McMullin agree that for most people, the perception of danger, of criminality, is what creates a fear of someone living on the street. But their experience is that for many homeless people, “remarkable things happen when someone gets into housing, when they can finally feel safe and truly rest. A whole different person emerges.” Life essentials such as a door to lock, a bed to sleep on, a refrigerator to store food, and a bathroom seem like simple things, but can change a life.

The National Coalition for the Homeless underscores that homelessness and healthcare are interwoven, and poor health can be both a cause and a result of homelessness.  It reports that the average life expectancy for a homeless person is 42-52 years. 

Redding Bridges to Housing grew out of Englebright’s initial interest in bringing awareness to the homeless issue in her community. The solution-based program addresses the problem one person at a time by giving people a hand up. McMullin has been addressing the problem of the medically at-risk homeless with other health care and community organizations for some time.

Bridges to Housing requires prospective tenants to agree to be ready to move off the street, accept a case manager and see them often, apply for permanent housing through HUD, pay either $50 or 60 percent of their monthly income for rent, whichever is more, and be a good neighbor. 

Englebright continues to post on the Redding Bridges to Housing website and Facebook page, telling stories of people who live on the edges of society. Since its launch in November 2016, the  nonprofit, donation-funded organization (working with its fiscal partner, the United Way) has helped more than 20 people move into housing and off the streets.

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