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Walnut Creek Respite Center Provides Relief for Town's Homeless

As the onset of winter brings shorter days and colder nights, Walnut Creek's Fresh Start provides services and a sense of home for those without one.

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.


Willy November 10, 2010 at 03:14 PM
What a great program. Even moer so in a place like Walnut Creek, its important to take care of our fellow residents. Does the program also pursue the "Housing First" approach? This is the idea, first promoted in Denver where you go after the root problem, instead of the symptons. You find people a place to live.
Longtimer November 11, 2010 at 04:41 PM
Anyone else notice the HUGE influx of homeless people in and around WC? Has anyone looked down at the creek by Trader Joes? Could it be we are attracting more becuase of the services that are being offered?
Martha Ross November 11, 2010 at 10:54 PM
I've been told that there are more homeless people in Walnut Creek, or an increase in demand for services for organizations like Fresh Start. And, for better or for worse, Walnut Creek has several things going for it that might make it attractive to homeless. Location, location, location. It is centrally located. The crossroads after al. In spending some time myself at Fresh Start, I learned that a fair number of clients are people who grew up locally, in Walnut Creek, Concord, Danville, etc. They want to stay in the area--like a lot of us. They've just fallen on hard times and can't afford regular regular housing. Then there are the police, who, I've been told, will try to help some of these homeless folks get to services like Fresh Start. That is, unless they are breaking the law and need to be arrested.
Ralph Hoffmann December 20, 2010 at 08:01 PM
Homeless people usually are public-transit dependent, so the location of Fresh Start is ideal. Then too, the lobby of City Hall provides another safe shelter. Unfortunately, some of the commercial units and residents of the "Luxury" Mercer Condos get a bit uptight with homeless so near to "Beauty Row."

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