The looming, 70-year-old stucco building that has housed Living Hope Compassion Ministries for two decades is topped by a large, plain cross that looks like it’s poised for a triple gainer from a wedding-cake façade.
Living Hope’s warehouse-style building at State and Favretto streets in Redding is located about a quarter mile southward of South City Park and the Shasta County Library, and about the same distance north of the Good News Rescue Mission, all hangouts for some of the city’s largest indigent populations.
There was a time in Living Hope’s youth that its location was perfectly suited for its clientele, though the Parkview neighborhood residents may have begged to differ. Then, it was part soup kitchen and part drop-in day center that primarily served the homeless and addicted. For about 15 years Living Hope offered free access to food, clothes, laundry, showers and nap facilities.
Four years ago, when Mike Mojarro first became Living Hope’s executive director, he was often apologetic about his organization’s location.
He sympathized with the Parkview residents, many of whom frequently called the police to report myriad crimes they said were committed by some Living Hope clients.
Mojarro understood where his neighbors were coming from, and often wondered whether Living Hope would be better-suited in a rural, ranch-like setting. He pictured a place with gardens, animals and all kinds of vocational training, far from the city core.
“Setting up shop in a neighborhood struggling with poverty and becoming a hub for free resources does not revitalize a community,” he said.
The change-making awareness for Mojarro and his team came around the time of their enlightenment via the “Toxic Charity” philosophy where author Robert D. Lupton suggests that well-meaning churches and charities sometimes inadvertently foster dependence and entitlement in the very people they’re trying to help.
In part, that change of mind and heart explains today’s contrast between Living Hope’s old days and current operations. Now Living Hope avoids giving hand-outs, though it still offers some free food in its lobby for the needy, and will deliver bottled water to street folks on the hottest days.
But its main focus is on tangible, interactive programs to help end poverty and homelessness. Examples include Living Hope’s Neighborhood Networks food cooperative, the Life Cycles bike program, The Shack restaurant and its woodworking shop.
These programs are transitional stepping stones designed to lead the poor and homeless outside Living Hope and into sustainable lives.
That’s exactly what’s happened with many of Living Hope’s formerly homeless clients. Though Mojarro asked that we maintain clients’ dignity and employers’ confidentiality by withholding names, Mojarro listed the current job categories as health care, food service, horticulture, construction, retail and non-profit faith-based.
As delighted as Mojarro is to discuss those successes, he’s also frustrated because he knows that with more resources, Living Hope could be doing so much more. His current wish-list includes:
• A Living Hope restaurant food truck, “A Meal With a Mission” operated by clients. Its cost: About $40,000.
• Funds to cover less-exciting expenses, like payroll and utilities.
• More money to pay more clients – homeless consumers turned producers – for employment inside Living Hope. Currently Living Hope has six paid employees, but Mojarro would like more.
He’s grateful for the partnerships he has with other faith-based non-profits. And he’s especially thankful for two churches, Redding First Church of the Nazarene and Little Country Church, that have added Living Hope as an annual budget line item. However, he’s disappointed and amazed that so many other other churches have rejected Living Hope’s plea to be included as an annual budget line item for a half of 1 percent to help support its work with the poor and homeless.
“There are nearly 100 churches in the Redding area,” Mojarro said. “If we are truly followers of the Gospel, we Christians need to come together to solve the problems of our shared community.”
Regarding getting community help, he finds it interesting that in some ways, it was easier to entice the public to contribute when Living Hope was mostly about handing out free food and clothes, easily understandable items. But Mojarro said it’s more difficult for the community to get its head around more abstract concepts, like resources to empower the homeless and lift people out of poverty.
But it’s his job to try to make people understand, just as it’s his job to show up at Redding City Council meetings to say his piece regarding homeless issues, as he did on July 16. Some of his family and friends were incredulous that he’d spend the entire evening at a city council meeting, which happened to fall on his birthday, just to say something that probably wouldn’t effect any real change. (See City Council video, below. Go to 49:22 on the video.)
But then, there’s the flip side, when he’s humbled by those who consistently give when they can least afford it, such as a woman at Living Hope who participates in the $10 Challenge fundraiser.
“So here’s this lady willing to sacrifice what little she had,” he said. “Ten dollars a month for so many people is just a drop in the bucket. For her, it’s a lot.”
He’s inspired by people like that woman, and the scores of poor who come through Living Hope’s doors each day, not looking for free stuff, but seeking hope, and demonstrating a willingness to work to make it happen. That last part is key, Mojarro said.
“Truly, we have only been a catalyst for change in those that were motivated and ready for change,” Mojarro said.
“Many of the people we see here, they want to work, and they’re ready to change, but they need opportunities. We want to let leaders emerge. And we want people to become their best selves. We know everyone is not ready to change. But we are here for them when they are ready.”
So, Mojarro remains optimistic and realistic, a combination of his belief in God and his seed-feed-and-meet-the-needs mentality when it comes to the homeless and jobless.
Meanwhile, he’s starting to make peace with Living Hope’s location, now that it has a change of direction toward interactive participation, job training and entrepreneurship.
“Now I am thinking we are right where we need to be, providing a service for the community.”
Even so, he acknowledges that some of his heart’s desires for Living Hope may not happen in his lifetime. It doesn’t stop him from doing everything he can to make things happen sooner.
Click on the link below to hear Mike Mojarro speak – located at 49:22 on the video – before the Redding City Council in response to Councilwoman Missy McArthur’s comment about homeless day centers.
Click here for information about The Shack, Living Hope’s restaurant . (Usually it’s open on the third Sunday. This month it’s the fourth Sunday for a special event. Details to follow.)
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.