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Sister Tricia Ready To Fill Father Joe's Shoes

December 13, 2011 1:36 p.m.


Sister Tricia Cruise

Related Story: Sister Tricia Ready To Fill Father Joe's Shoes


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The man whose name and face is synonymous with efforts to help the homeless in San Diego, father Joe carol stepped down from day-to-day operations this year. The new director of father's Joe villages is sister Tricia Cruise. Sister Tricia Cruise, welcome to the show.

CRUISE: Thank you very much.

CAVANAUGH: Now, father Joe carol was such a -- is such a big personality in San Diego, how do you follow that act?

CRUISE: Just keep his legacy and his mission going.

CAVANAUGH: And what experience do you bring to this new job?

CRUISE: Well, I have been a sister for the past 30 years. I was president and CEO of covenant house international which is a homeless shelter for street kid. We serve about 65,000 kids every year in six countries in 21 sites. So that gives me some background. I also lived and worked on the pine ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota for nine years.

CAVANAUGH: Did you have a lot of conversations with father Joe before you got accepted as the new head of father Joe's villages?

CRUISE: Actually, we met each other once and had a pretty extensive, you know, conversation, and talked about our work and how our work has been connected in many ways. And father Joe's villages really does fit into the model that I know and love.

CAVANAUGH: Father Joe calls your tenure as president the start of a new era in programs and services at father Joe's villages. What direction would you like to take father Joe's villages?

CRUISE: Well, I think first and foremost, we need to sustain what we have. You spoke in the first introduction about the fact that nonprofits are finding more and more people that come to their door. And donors with less and les discretionary money to give to these kinds of services. And so we need to maintain what we do and really look at what we do, funding-wise. At the same time we need to look at our future and how are we going to sustain the 1,100 people that live in our facilities every single night and the 4th thousand meals we serve a day?

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, remind us of the scope of the work of father Joe's villages. It's not only a place that homeless people come to get a meal.

CRUISE: Uh-huh. It is not free meals and a cot. That is something that father Joe never would have put up with, for sure. We have, are as I said, 450 employee, a 33 million dollar budget, we serve about 1,100 people a night who sleep in our facilities either downtown in the villages or Tousant, or the kitchen over in palm desert. Children, families, men, women, all homeless, veterans. We serve over 200 veterans every single night. And so we really do run the gamut of all the services that one would need beyond food and housing. Whether it's education or job services or -- we have a huge clinic that probably serves -- I don't know how many people we seven, but we probably save the local hospitals $10,000 a day.

CAVANAUGH: Just by the kind of medical services that you provide there?

CRUISE: Uh-huh.

CAVANAUGH: We've been hearing, sister Trisha, a lot about the changing face of homelessness. And you think you know what a homeless person looks like. Well, you probably don't anymore because there is a lot of change and a lot of different people find themselves in that situation. How has that challenged the resources of a complex like father Joe's villages?

CRUISE: Well, we just opened a 12-story building where we will house -- actually, yesterday, we just moved in 160 men into the transitional living housing. If your name was not on the list the first day, you probably won't get into our facility for a year or more. So that tells us how many more people are out there that are looking for help too. Looking for a step up, looking for an opportunity. As much as we still have people who find themselves homeless, living on the street for long periods of time, we also have the guy who has, you know, the laptop in his backpack been living on the street, has lost his home, has lost his family, has lost his job, and doesn't know where to go from there. There is nothing left. They are capable. Very smart, very capable of holding a job, but the job market obviously isn't helping the situation very much. But most importantly, we need to build up their self esteem again. So much! It's really sad to see people who have taken care of themselves and taken care of their families, and all of a sudden, there's nothing left. There's not even a sparkle in their eye, and that's what I think father Joe's provides also.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you're downtown, you're close to the situation, you see this every single day. Can you tell us what you see when you tour the streets of San Diego after hours when the businesses close? How many people are out there? I don't mean exact numbers. And how are they surviving?

CRUISE: I don't have exact numbers either. I need a little bit more time and a little bit more prep for that usually. But how are these people surviving? As best they can. All you have to do is drive down some of those streets where the shopping carts are covered in the plastic, and people have made little, I consider them, like, tent cities, in areas where they'll feel safe, where they can be together, where they're close to food or something that will shield them from harm. And that has become the homeless population. It used to be if you read books and see movies from years ago, it was the hobo or the individual man. Now it's families, families are living in their cars, people are really desperate. And sometimes will do desperate things. So violence is also part of that picture.

CAVANAUGH: In if our annual head count in San Diego earlier this year, I believe that there were counted more than 3,000 people living on the street, basically, in San Diego.

CRUISE: Uh-huh, yes.

CAVANAUGH: Now, next year, San Diego, the City of San Diego, is on track to open a permanent homeless shelter with about 200 beds. I'm wondering, what kind of difference do you see that making?

CRUISE: From my perspective, any addition to affordable housing in the city or transitional housing or crisis beds can only help what's going on. And we have -- one of the issues around nonprofits anywhere and across the world, across this country in cities is that we haven't worked well and played well together in the same box. And we need to do that. Not only with our nonprofit friends but with the -- our government agencies and our elected officials. None of us can do this alone. We do not have to duplicate services. Let's figure out how to do it in such a way so that as many people as possible can be served in the city.

CAVANAUGH: Do you see that in the time that you've been here? Do you see the greatest challenge that we face here with the problem of homelessness is lack of resources? Lack of actual places for people to stay overnight and to stay in general to rebuild their lives?

CRUISE: I don't know if I can answer that question yet. I'm not sure I have enough information. There are many people who live on the street that do not want to come into shelter for many reasons. There are lots of rules, there are lots of regulations, some federal, state, some local. Father Joe's village has rules and policies. And they do survive on the street, not in necessarily the healthiest way. And all of us who have grownup in wonderful homes, etc, can begin to judge that. But there are people who will always live on the street. And that's okay. They have every right to do that. Most personal is that we are seeing a new face, a face of families, a face of people that never expected themselves to be there. The face of children living on the streets. And that's pretty heart breaking to me.

CAVANAUGH: You know, there's a new movement here in San Diego and across the country called Housing First, in which people who are chronically homeless are provided housing. And not necessarily, although there are lots of opportunities for them to change their lives and stop their addictions, but the idea is to get them into that housing first. Do you think that's a good move?

CRUISE: Father Joe's villages has been doing housing first for the past 30 years, and I think it's important that we tell that story and really look at -- I've seen homeless shelters across the country from Manhattan to the pine ridge Indian reservation, which was the poorest county in the nation when I lived there. And this model is a model that I have seen nowhere else that has been established and really worked on by a phenomenal staff. And it works. So elected officials, etc, may come out and say we have this new model, or this is a new thing that's happening around the country. There are people out there already doing those things, and we need to honor that and recognize that.

CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, how have you been received since you've been here? The people who work at father Joe's villages, the larger community, the hole little community.

CRUISE: Right. I've just been blessed. Father Joe's villages staff has been nothing but kind and welcoming, and teaching me the ropes in many areas from the political to how to get around San Diego, which has been fun. And our four different boards have been very supportive and welcoming and introducing me to the city. And I couldn't ask for anymore.

CAVANAUGH: Is there a time, however, you look over and you said -- at the number of homeless people that we have and the challenges that you face, and said, wow, what have I taken on?

CRUISE: No, I've done it before. And it's my passion. You just jump in and you just keep on doing it. Each nonprofit in this country does some phenomenal things, they make some mistakes, and move on, hopefully learn from them, and keep the mission alive and well. And that's our goal. And I believe the goal of keeping father Joe's legacy Alive.

CAVANAUGH: Do you think you could bring something different to this job because you're a woman?

CRUISE: I hope so. I hope so! I don't really have an answer for that yet, but I'll let you know! There are a lot of professional women that are reaching out to me, and that's a good thing. And lots of preventional men. Because I think it's going to take all of us to continue to provide the kind of services that have been provided and for us to really study and figure out what's next.

CAVANAUGH: I get from your answers that you're -- you don't necessarily feel that San Diego has really plumed the depths or explored all the avenues of interaction between the community, private/public partnerships, that kind of thing, working together in order to have a common vision to solve the problem of homelessness in San Diego. I know that you haven't been here long, but is that the kind of idea that you're getting? That there are areas that you can explore that haven't been explored before?

CRUISE: Oh, my goodness! Yes, yes. And maybe the most important one is continuous education, and putting our heads together and figuring out next steps. There will never be one answer. And the problem of people finding themselves either homeless or in places they don't want to be will never go away. That is -- helped since the beginning of time and will continue to happen. But in the world that we live in, we can look at things differently. You know? The world of technology has changed what we do. The world of -- the ability connect to with people from all over the world makes a difference in how we request do what we do and do it well.

CAVANAUGH: The last time I spoke with father Joe, he was commenting on the fact that the percentage of homeless, based on population in San Diego, was basically the same or maybe higher as when he first arrived in San Diego 30 years ago. And it's -- he said that it made him feel as if he hadn't really made a difference. And I think there are probably thousands and thousands and thousands of people in San Diego who would disagree strongly with that concept. But it made me wonder, how will you measure your success?

CRUISE: The success of father Joe's villages going forward is when we can continue to keep the doors open and have an endowment in place so that we can keep the doors open for the next 20 million meals that need to be served.

CAVANAUGH: 20 million meals.


CAVANAUGH: How long is that?

CRUISE: I don't know. It took 30 years for the first 20 million, and I have no doubt it's not going to take as long for the next 20 million.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you, sister Trisha cruise, president and CO of father Joe's villages for speaking with us. Thank you so much.

CRUISE: Thank you!