The poor and homeless are often invisible in the middle of one of Silicon Valley's most booming cities, but the need for a free breakfast program at a downtown Mountain View church is growing, serving 180 people on a recent Saturday.
The free Saturday breakfast and bag lunch is part of a program known as "Hope's Corner," named after its location at the corner of Hope and Mercy streets. From 8 to 10 a.m. food is served in the meeting hall at Trinity United Methodist Church.
"It's a very cumbersome lifestyle," said one man who frequents the program and lives in his car. "Things like being able to cook your food, being able to have a bathroom facility, heating -- when you are housed you take those things for granted. Those things are not part of the equation when you're homeless."
The 180 people who used the breakfast program Nov. 23 was a record, said volunteer Robert Lee. Los Altos United Methodist Church partnered with Trinity United Methodist Church to create the program, though volunteers are welcome regardless of their faith.
The program is seeking donations to help expand to three days a week, and so far has raised $90,000 of the $350,000 needed to upgrade the hall's bathrooms and kitchen, which isn't up to code. "Then we would actually be able to cook meals there," said Leslie Carmichael, chair of the board for Hope's Corner.
Volunteers noted that they don't see the sort of chronically ill or drug addicted homeless persons you might expect. Many are longtime residents down on their luck, who don't want to leave their communities behind.
"There's a wide variety of folks that come here," Lee said. "There's people that sleep in their cars, people that sleep on the ground, people who spend all their money on rent so they don't have enough money for food."
Palo Alto's ban on car camping at the Cubberly Community Center has had an impact.
"If you look in this room, you can see people who are pretty well dressed," Lee said. "A lot of them were living near Cubberly and now they are forced to look for other places to go," he said.
Volunteer Michael Fischetti, who is also a county health commissioner, provided a long list of ways volunteers have helped, such as coming to the rescue of a family whose car was impounded -- along with all of their possessions. Volunteers quickly collected $400 to get the car out before it got too expensive. Each day in the tow yard costs $50.
There's even a Google employee who uses the program.
"Volunteers have helped get YMCA memberships so that a woman living in her car can shower at 6 a.m. to get to her work at Google," Fischetti said in an email.
Volunteer Kevin Thompson recalled the smile on one young homeless child's face when volunteers, with the help of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition's Bike Exchange program, were able to immediately replace his stolen bicycle. The child drew a picture of the bike under a smiling sun to show his appreciation, signing it "a boy who loves to ride, age 12."
The Bike Exchange on Leghorn Avenue has donated 20 bikes that will be given away this Saturday, Dec. 21, when Hope's Corner holds a holiday gift exchange at 12:30 p.m.
"We have been able to provide bikes for a half a dozen individuals who need them to get to work, and to children," Fischetti said.
Having been in existence for just over two years, the program has built connections with the Community Service's Agency, Second Harvest Food Bank and Panera Bread, which donates unsold pastries every Friday night.
"Ultimately, our goal is to do more community-outreach kinds of things," Lee said.
Explaining the demand, Fischetti noted, "Santa Clara County has the nation's fifth-highest number of homeless per capita," adding that it was "clearly due to high rents and the unconscionable lack of affordable housing."
"Some people's lives are more messed up than others, but the bottom line is people are people," said the homeless man who spoke with the Voice but declined to give his name. "They all deserve to at least have a basic level of dignity that's sufficient for a person to be able to get back on their feet."
To donate or volunteer to help the program, go to laumc.org/serve/community/hopes-corner.
Email Daniel DeBolt at firstname.lastname@example.org