Construction of homeless center put on hold

The City Council voted 3-4 against a proposed plan to serve homeless men on the west side

Photo/Anthony Victoria: The proposed site of Mary’s Village for Men will stand on Walnut Street between Pico Avenue and San Marcos Street in San Bernardino. This is how the area looks like now.
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The construction of a homeless center in San Bernardino’s third ward was put on hold after the City Council voted against the project on August 1.

Mary’s Village, the name of the proposed center, was slated to serve approximately 120 homeless men in the city by providing housing, educational, and job training services. The center is supposed to be modeled after an existing center, Veronica’s Home of Mercy, located at 1476 W. 6th Street which helps serve women and children.

Third ward council member John Valdivia, who was not present during the initial vote, said on August 1 that the center could pose a “quality of life” issue that may make residents feel uneasy.

“While I do appreciate the good and hard work from staff on this item, this is a quality of life issue that will impact businesses and resident,” Valdivia said during the meeting on August 1. “I can’t support this. It seems completely incompatible with the priorities of my district.”

Fifth ward council member Henry Nickel said he voted against the center because he intends to reverse the disastrous trends of poverty and crime.

“I think [Mary’s Mercy] is a great program, I’m not arguing that. I’m arguing that the city has enough of these programs present,” Nickel explained. “We can no longer afford to accommodate the large number of homeless in our county. It’s time for surrounding cities to step up and bear the costs of the issue.”

As of Monday, Second Ward Councilman Benito Barrios, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Bessine Littlefield-Richard and Seventh Ward Councilman Jim Mulvihill were unavailable for comment.

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Virginia Marquez argued Monday that Mary’s Village would have helped some of the 163 men (or 68 percent) of the homeless population that was counted in the County’s point-in-time count in April.

“I’m disappointed and disheartened that the agenda item did not get the discussion it deserved,” Marquez said. “This project would have been a gift to the city. [Mary’s Mercy] is paying for it. The bottom line is that those opposed to it believe this is an issue not worth considering, and I disagree.”

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Councilman Fred Shorett said his fellow councilmembers did a disservice to the community by voting against the project.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” Shorett said in a phone interview last Thursday. “I’m going to work hard to deal with these issues.”

Veronica’s Home of Mercy Director Debra Olguin believes the proposal was struck down due to a misconception of what Mary’s Mercy Center’s mission is.

“This is not a soup kitchen,” she said of Veronica’s Home. “People don’t wander around here. This a structured transitional program that helps people get their lives on track. The people who truly want to change their lives will be here.”

Veronica’s Home of Mercy provides services to women in need

Veronica’s Home of Mercy is comprised of two houses that carry a total of 120 beds for women and children. Tenants have access to a play area, a chapel for prayer services, a cafeteria and kitchen area, and a computer room. Clothing donations, provided by local organizations and businesses, are also available for tenants to sort through.

Olguin said the women are enrolled in adult school, community college, or in technical programs and are required to meet a curfew of 6 p.m. every day.  

According to Olguin about 75 percent of the women involved in the program are responsive to the services provided.

“Most are grateful to be here,” said Olguin. “They are happy someone is giving them the opportunity to change.”

Olguin explained she understands the plight many of the women at the center experience because she spent 15 years battling substance abuse.

“I’ve been there before, so a lot of these women can relate to me,” Olguin said.

Staff member Noelle Leon, 39, says that many of the women at the home are there because they are hoping to escape the thralls of abusive relationships, drug addictions, and homelessness to improve their lives and those of their children.

“These women learn to build themselves up by learning how to write resumes, learning how to be self-sufficient,” she said. “It’s important for us to help them realize that they have self-worth. This is very much needed.”

Leon and her 7-year-old son Richard found themselves to be homeless after a dispute with a landlord turned sour and she lost her temporary job with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Individuals at her church directed her to Veronica’s Home, where she received guidance and support from Sister Betty McGovern.
“I’m not a prideful person, especially when it comes to my son,” Leon explained. “And I’m not ashamed of what I’m doing and the message I’m giving these women.”

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