For homeless families struggling to provide their children with life’s basic necessities and create an opportunity to become independent and self-sufficient, Thomas House Family Shelter is more than a place to stay – it’s a place to permanently change their lives.
Founded in 1986 by a group of Orange County residents who were members of St. Barbara’s Catholic Church, the Garden Grove-based not-for-profit organization provides a supportive environment and the resources necessary for homeless families with children to remain together while empowering them to become self-reliant.
“Thomas House does much more than shelter homeless families,” says Executive Director Cyndee Albertson. “Thomas House is a goal oriented, life changing program that offers comprehensive services designed to help families attain housing and self-sufficiency. Last year, over 95 percent of our residents graduated from the program – 89 percent moved into their own home and 81 percent got full-time jobs.”
For families like Bob and Cheryl and their three children, their stay at Thomas House Family Shelter allowed them to achieve their dream of one day owning their own home. When Bob was injured on the job, he went on disability, but was unable to make ends meet. The family lost their apartment and lived in motels and with relatives for several months before finding Thomas House.
During their stay, Bob entered a retraining program and Cheryl found employment. When Bob finished the program, he applied for a job and started a new career. Without the usual expenses of rent, childcare and food, the family paid bills and saved enough money for a deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment.
Before they moved, their case manager helped the couple prepare a budget to assure that they would be able to pay their rent and maintain their new apartment.
Recently, Cheryl called Thomas House to share the exciting news that their children are doing well in school, their jobs are stable and they achieved their dream of buying a home.
Thomas House, which serves approximately 135–150 families per year, exclusively serves homeless families with children in Orange County, and the parents must be willing and qualified to work.
Participants must also adhere to the organization’s criteria for assistance – including learning life skills like budgeting, parental guidance, remaining drug and alcohol-free and actively seeking and obtaining employment. Thomas House covers the cost of their housing, food, phone, etc. for a period of (generally) six to nine months, during which time these individuals are able to save their earnings and eventually put them toward a place to live. Simply put, the goal of Thomas House is to help homeless families get on their feet.
Twelve years ago Tom Orbe, Vice President of Orange County-based Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, became involved with the organization, initially volunteering to help in the after school program for kids and help their parents find employment. Over the years, he (and his wife) have donated significant time and resources toward helping Thomas House achieve its mission.
“I’ve always felt that there should be no such thing as a homeless family,” says Orbe. “People always tell me that my involvement is a very unselfish thing to do, but the truth is that it’s just the opposite – I get more out of it than I could possibly ever give. It’s all about the children. To see these children and their families go from a circumstance where they don’t know where their next meal is coming from to living in a much better environment and being able to envision and achieve a future of independence and self-sufficiency, is a very rewarding thing to see.”
Orbe and Albertson encourage the community to tour the shelter, give the gift of time – Thomas House Shelter always needs volunteers for food disbursement, in the after-school program, helping people find employment or at the organization’s annual fundraising events. Of course, monetary donations are also welcome – even the smallest donation can help transform a homeless family’s life.
To connect with Thomas House Family Shelter, visit thomashouseshelter.org. M