2011-09-29 / Community
New county office a place to go for those in need
Human Services Agency is latest tenant at Under One Roof building
Benefits specialist Jessica Angulo Chavez says that not long after the agency opened its doors at the Under One Roof building on Hillcrest Road she helped a young mother with two infant children qualify for CalFresh—formerly food stamps— and a host of other benefits available to families in distress in Ventura County.
Three weeks earlier, the woman’s husband had been deported to Mexico, Angulo Chavez said, leaving the family without its only breadwinner and the children, both under the age of 3, with nothing to eat.
After filling out paperwork with Angulo Chavez’s help, the Thousand Oaks mother was able to take home emergency cash to pay for rent and groceries. Although she is not a U.S. citizen, her children are, and as such, qualify for government assistance.
The mother was also directed to the Women Infant Children (WIC) Program, a federal food program run by the county, and to Lutheran Social Services, both across the hallway.
“She was very appreciative. She started crying in the office actually, because that’s how happy she was,” Angulo Chavez said. “She finally saw some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Until recently, local residents had access to limited agency services at a small satellite office on Thousand Oaks Boulevard. But long lines and longer waits often greeted visitors, many of whom chose instead to travel to the agency’s fullservice Simi Valley office to apply for state-provided health insurance or food benefits.
Angulo Chavez said some clients with small children spent up to two hours taking three buses to get from T.O. to Simi Valley.
“I think that our being here brings hope to them. I can see it in their eyes and face,” she said.
Residents who are down and out and need government assistance aren’t the only ones to benefit from Human Services Agency’s new office.
The nonprofit Community Conscience, which owns the two-story, 17,500-square-foot Under One Roof building, charges market rent to WIC and the county agency.
The arrangement allows about a dozen social service nonprofits to stay in the building rent-free. Community Conscience charges those organizations only a nominal utility fee.
Dee Crawford, Community Conscience president, said that because the county agency agreed to take the place of the Social Security Administration— which moved in June to 322 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.—the difficult task of finding another anchor tenant was avoided.
“Let’s face it . . . a for-profit entity is probably not going to want to come to a building where the homeless are served,” Crawford said. “Our nonprofits do so much to help people. But (in the community) there is that NIMBY attitude—Not In My Backyard.”
Crawford said she originally approached Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks about the possibility of the county moving in. Parks called it “a great fit.”
“It’s always something I felt the county should be involved with . . . particularly the Human Services Agency, which helps people who are down on their luck and having economic problems,” Parks said.
She said she likes the synergy that’s developed among the different nonprofits because of their proximity to one another.
The Under One Roof tenants have occasional get-togethers to inform one another of the services they offer. They refer clients in need to services and share resources.
For example, the Senior Concerns boutique gives free vouchers to Lutheran Social Services, which will give a voucher to a client in need of clothing for a job interview.
Last year, Under One Roof tenants served more than 45,000 people—which doesn’t include clients of the Social Security Administration, Crawford said.
“So can you imagine how many people we’re going to serve now,” she said.
In a year or so, the WIC program is expected to move out of Under One Roof and join a county health clinic and urgent care center at the former Borders building at 125 W. Thousand Oaks Blvd., after renovation there is complete. Those medical services will be within walking distance of Under One Roof.
Crawford said she’d like to offer WIC’s space rent-free to a nonprofit but that depends on whether Community Conscience can pay the building’s expenses with the county’s rent and funds raised at the organization’s annual Mardi Gras Ball. The nonprofit has paid off its mortgage but has ongoing expenses that include a part-time office manager and building maintenance.
“We haven’t made that decision yet,” she said concerning WIC’s space.
Even though the organization lost a sizable part of its income when the Social Security Administration moved out, the board of directors wouldn’t think of shutting down the building, Crawford said.
“We would never close down, because we believe too much in what we’re doing here,” said Crawford, one of some 24 volunteers that run Community Conscience. “But we were concerned that we would have to charge some kind of rent (to the nonprofits) in order to keep going.”
For more information about Community Conscience Under One Roof at 80 E. Hillcrest Drive, call (805) 494-3543.
To reach the new Human Service Agency in suite 200, call (805) 449-7320.