Oceanside Woman Runs And Funds A Motel Shelter For The Homeless
When Vanessa Graziano was homeless, she never imagined she would be running a homeless motel shelter today.
“I tell my story because I was homeless, I was the one out there asking for money, and I was the one living in my car,” she said.
It all started last year when Graziano decided to pay for a motel for a family in need. Now, 15 rooms at the Carlsbad Village Inn motel currently house 35 people, including 14 children.
“When COVID hit, we realized we needed to create some kind of shelter and food service. So I came together with a few people out there and we started this emergency COVID shelter, which absolutely grew,” said Graziano.
Every morning, her first stop of the day is at the motel where one of the rooms serves as an intake office.
Here, coffee and meals are provided daily.
“We have dinner being provided from Jewish Collaborative services. They do it every Monday. They’ve been doing it for like six months,” Graziano said.
The intake office is also where she meets the people who are staying at the shelter to learn about their needs and any updates.
“And all the people here are absolutely moving forward,” said Graziano.
In order to keep her clients moving forward, Graziano has to first raise money to pay for the motel rooms.
Everyday, she asks for donations on social media to keep the shelter running.
“Over the last year we’ve probably raised over a quarter million dollars. And it's just through me, private funding, different churches, local, that have come on board,” she said. “We’ve had a few grants here and there from a private organization but honestly ... I have to raise $1,000 a day to keep everyone here safe.”
Graziano was originally operating out of an Oceanside motel, but a rate increase forced her to look for cheaper options.
Sharna Barron is one of Graziano’s clients. She has been at the motel shelter for a couple of weeks after being homeless for two years.
She said she needed stability in order to move forward.
“When you're on the streets you can't be stable. I mean really you can't. (Police) kick you out. I was sleeping on the benches at the harbor, they kick you out. I was sleeping on the ground, I got kicked out over there, you can't,” said Barron.
The motel shelter has allowed Barron to have a semi-permanent address that helped her secure a job.
She started last week.
Desiree Young is another shelter resident starting a new job, working at Amazon.
Young and her family are going into their third month at Graziano’s shelter.
The motel address has allowed Young’s children to enroll in school and gave her family some stability.
“It's hard to get a job or put them into school where they have to be going when you have to move around,” said Young.
The nonprofit has been able to move 38 clients into permanent housing.
Graziano said her shelter has become a “hub” where her clients can get connected to resources to get them back on their feet.
Some of the resources include county case workers, healthcare, employment assistance, transit passes for transportation, and housing assistance.
Graziano said she doesn’t judge any of her clients and listens to what they each need, but there are some rules they have to follow.
“It is a come as you are program but if you’re on drugs, we really want you to understand you can be here safe, but we’re going to get you into detox, recovery, because that is the next step,” she said.
Miranda Chavez, the director of Integrative Services at the Community Resource Center in Encinitas said grassroot organizations like Graziano’s, play an important role in helping the homeless community.
“Those groups are important because it’s grassroots. It's individuals in the community saying you know what I want to do something more in my community and there’s just not enough resources,” said Chavez.
Community Resource Center also helps get resources to homeless people in North County and works with grassroot organizations like Graziano’s.
Chavez said smaller organizations can sometimes fill the need that larger organizations can’t.
“The larger an organization is and the more involved government is, people are wary of it,” she said.
While the need for homeless resources grows in North County, Graziano’s phone keeps ringing every day.
“I get calls from Scripps Hospital, I get calls from different programs that need someone to have a hotel to stay in for a few days and I’m privately funded. Of course if I had more funding I’d open up more rooms,” said Graziano.
Because Graziano has her own experience with homelessness, she said her clients trust her more.
“I had lived a pretty successful life, and marriage, and I got divorced and then I stumbled onto drugs," said Graziano. "And so being able to come on the other side of it and having that lived experience, I do believe my voice is valuable and credible today.”
Graziano has been drug free for six years and has goals to help more people get out of the street.
Her goal is to create a cottage community where her clients can learn job skills to prepare them to live on their own.