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From Canyon To Cove: Riding along with the homeless

September 30, 2010|Cindy Frazier
  • The food pantry at the city of Laguna Beach's Alternative Sleeping Center Friday, Sept. 24.
The food pantry at the city of Laguna Beach's Alternative… (Scott Smeltzer,…)

They call her "Mom." She calls them "kids." But Faye Chapman isn't nearly old enough to be the mother of the homeless people she ferries to the Alternative Sleeping Location in Laguna Canyon from a designated pickup location at the bus depot on Broadway.

Chapman has an easy familiarity with the homeless, some of whom have obvious physical or mental disabilities. A few of the men tease and joke with her — some of the jokes are off-color and might offend most women — but Chapman smiles breezily and keeps to her mission.

The van makes several trips throughout the day, taking ASL dwellers downtown in the morning after they have had breakfast. In the afternoon, at 4:30 p.m., they are eager to get back to the facility, a large, square room that can hold as many as 60 people.

In the evening, the ASL residents are in the charge of staff members with the Friendship Shelter, but during the day, the Laguna Resource Center, a volunteer group, makes sure they get lunch, and that any medical needs and other necessities are attended to. That's where the van comes in, taking residents to the Laguna Beach Community Clinic for appointments, as well as providing regular transport between the center and downtown.

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Chapman is always looking for people to drive the van. She'd like to find 30 people, to spread out the duties to one day a month. She has about 15 signed up so far, and when someone doesn't show up, it is usually Chapman who takes the wheel. But that's OK with the homeless, who are clearly delighted to see her and greet her warmly.

With Chapman driving, the rides up the canyon are fun, like a trip to summer camp.

"Sometimes we turn up the radio and sing," she said.

'A big family'

Donna Valenti is the Resource Center's only paid staff member. Valenti, a longtime volunteer, has been managing the day program for less than a month. The Resource Center's food bank and other facilities opened up August 1 in a rented space owned by the city on the lot that contains the ASL.

"It's like a big family," Valenti said of the day center, where she helps anyone who walks in, whether they are an official ASL resident or not. "Everybody helps everybody else. They are caring and helpful. I'm at home here."

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