I joined about 30 other people doing our National Day of Service at CityTeam International in San Jose, Calif. CityTeam is a non-denominational but Christian-based program to provide shelter, counseling, education and employment help for men who are homeless, recovering from drug or alcohol abuse or who are otherwise lost.
The National Day of Service is being promoted in conjunction with the official birthday observance of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, both of which are happening Mon. Jan. 21.
CityTeam was founded about 60 years ago and has shelters and treatment centers in Oakland, Portland, Ore., and several other U.S. cities. It’s called CityTeam International because it now has a mission in Africa. While the City Team facility we visited is just for men, the organization operates two other facilities in San Jose for treatment of women and their children
Volunteers for the National Day of Service toured the facility to learn about its programs and then prepared lunch for about 200 people who are either residents of the treatment facility, staying temporarily in the homeless shelter or just visiting to get a nice hot meal.
The dining facility serves anywhere from 200 to 2,000 people a day, said Ryan Derfler, director of experience, depending on the time of year. At Thanksgiving and Christmas and during the winter, more people show up.
Although CityTeam receives some funding from Santa Clara County and other grant programs, most of its funding comes from volunteers, churches and in-kind contributions, Derfler said.
At the on-site warehouse, volunteers sort through food donations from food retailers such as Trader Joe’s and the Second Harvest food bank, as well as clothing donations.
“The longer they are homeless, the longer it seems to be a permanent situation for them,” said Derfler. That being the case, CityTeam offers counseling, health care treatment, job training, a computer lab and other programs to help men overcome their addiction, develop job skills and improve their situations.
“These are tools so that they do not fall back on the patterns that they’ve followed before,” he said.
Its counseling programs, which are based on a combination of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program and the wisdom of the Bible, have a recovery rate of between 70 percent and 80 percent, Derfler said.
And in order to encourage homeless shelter residents to not become too dependent on living there, it’s lights out at 9:00 p.m. and wake-up time is 5:00 a.m.
“We want to encourage them to start their day,” said Derfler, who says they encourage shelter residents to head out the door by 8:00 a.m. to look for work or visit a Social Security or Veterans Affairs offices to find out about benefits to which they are entitled. Residents of the 55-bed homeless shelter can stay free for the first seven days and then are charged $5 a night, or can do work around the facility to earn their keep.
It was interesting to see how the staffers at CityTeam do so much, often at little or no pay, for the men who need its services. And there is a strong sense of community here, too. The people in my group were treated to a jam session by four CityTeam residents, two guitarists, a keyboard player and a drummer, who call themselves “Ill Equipped.” They did rock-influenced Christian numbers.
In these economically difficult times, it’s understandable that some would worry more about their needs than those of others. But it’s commendable that people who live, work, donate and volunteer at charities such as CityTeam International are involved with a worthy community cause that is greater than themselves.