EDITOR's NOTE: Walnut Creek Patch first ran this story back in early November. A reader contacted me this morning saying he was having trouble getting into the holiday spirit, what with the war, unemployment and people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in our community. He suggested we run a story about Walnut Creek's Fresh Start, a respite and service center for homeless people. So, here is the story we ran.
A little more than a year ago, Polly Wyke found herself in a difficult situation: after almost 24 years of marriage, she and her husband were divorcing.
Unable to support herself, Wyke was forced to move in with her parents. After three trying months, it was clear that the living arrangement was doomed.
"Living with Mom and Dad just wasn't right," she said.
With nowhere else to go, Wyke headed off to Civic Park. It was there that she first heard about Fresh Start: a respite center that provides support for the homeless.
Nowadays, Wyke spends her Tuesdays and Thursdays at Fresh Start. Not only does she take advantage of its wide array of services, but she is employed by the respite center as its kitchen manager.
Wyke is one of many locals who utilize Fresh Start, which Susan Prather founded in 1997.
After a Rossmoor resident bequeathed $250,000 to help the homeless of Walnut Creek, the town reached out to Prather, a local activist, to find out if Walnut Creek even had a homeless problem.
In her first day canvassing Walnut Creek, Prather found 47 homeless people, and Fresh Start was born. After spending its first two years operating out of Civic Park, Fresh Start moved into its current home behind St. Paul's Episcopal Church.
Upon Prather's death three years ago, her husband, Bill Lunghi, took over the helm of Fresh Start. Today, he makes sure that the respite center continues to serve local residents who are homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless.
"Preventing homelessness is also part of our vision," he said. "You don't have to be homeless to take advantage of what we have to offer. You can also be unemployed or poor."
From free lunches to hot showers to medical assistance, participants greatly appreciate everything Fresh Start has to offer. Take, for instance, the free on-site washer and dryer.
According to Billy Lewis, who has frequented Fresh Start for five years and is operations supervisor, homeless residents used to have to jump through hoops just to get their clothes cleaned.
"There are no laundromats in Walnut Creek," he said. "You have to break into apartments to use theirs or take the bus to Pleasant Hill, Moraga or Lafayette."
Looking past the tangibles provided by Fresh Start, it also has given people a support group. People who regularly come back to Fresh Start cite the sense of community among participants.
"A lot of people don't have families or they're rejected from their families, a lot of them are orphans," said Lewis.
Wyke said, "Some of these people drive me nuts and some of them are a little quirky, but if you just know who to deal with and how to deal with them, then it works out all right."
Fresh Start Basics
Fresh Start is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m Tuesday and Thursdays at 1924 Trinity Ave., on the grounds of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. For more information, or to volunteer or donate, call 925-935-8446 or visit their website at http://freshstartwc.org. Services provided by Fresh Start include:
- Shower and laundry facilities
- Breakfast and substantial and nutritional meals and food to take away for later.
- A food pantry with canned foods
- Clothing, including underwear and socks and footwear; personal care products.
- Case management, including help with job searches and in obtaining government assistant and getting to medical appointments.
- Recognizing that a fair number of homeless people in Walnut Creek live outdoors year-round, Fresh Start provides tents, sleeping bags, tarps, fresh water, food and other items necessary to keep people who live outside healthy.
- Rights advocacy, especially for homeless people living in encampments.