Shelter From The Storm
Lee Hulquist--M.O.S.T./I-HELP program director
Thursday, December 30, 1999
"Where are you staying tonight?" Lee Hulquist asks the grizzled, older man wearing a tattered plaid shirt. He points off to the dunes behind the Salvation Army building in Sand City. "Over there," he answers. "Can I have a blanket? It''s pretty cold today."
"Let''s see what we can find," Hulquist says, reaching into the back of the white Mobile Outreach Services Team van, stuffed full with clothing, camping supplies, prepared food and bottled water.
"Can I have a hug, too?" the man asks, reaching for Hulquist''s shoulder. "You can have two," she laughs, squeezing him back.
For the past year and a half, ever since Shelter Outreach Plus took over the M.O.S.T. homeless services program from the county, Hulquist has gone out with the van virtually every day of the week. Starting at 9am, she, her driver and an assistant follow a set route around Salinas or the Peninsula, setting up their racks in parking lots and by the sides of roads, handing out clothing, emergency food, and hygiene supplies to hundreds of men and women in need. In addition to her work on the streets, Hulquist is program director of both M.O.S.T. and Shelter Outreach''s I-HELP program, which provides emergency shelter in area churches and synagogues for about four dozen men each night.
"It''s my job, I''m not a hero," Hulquist insists. But her efforts go way beyond what''s usually required of someone filling a 9-to-5 social work position. She deals face-to-face with the poorest of the poor on a daily basis, men and women who drift through the streets of our county, sleeping on beaches and under bridges, sick people, old people, crazy people. People who need everything she can give them, and more. And she greets every one with a smile, a suggestion, and--most important of all--a gentle hand on the shoulder, a pat on the back. A human touch.
Hulquist first got involved with the homeless in 1988, when she worked in then-Assemblymember Sam Farr''s office and helped organize a coalition of people concerned about the lack of housing and services for the homeless. She''d lived on the Peninsula since 1977, working in day care and as a nurse''s aide. In 1993, she took a full-time job with Peninsula Outreach, a homeless services organization which merged last year with Shelter Plus to form Shelter Outreach Plus.
Hulquist knows firsthand about the loneliness and other problems suffered by many of the street people she serves. She is a recovering addict herself, 14 years clean and sober. "Recovering addicts," she says, "a lot of us feel we have to do service. We''re working out some kind of karma, to make life meaningful."
Hulquist gets very involved in her clients'' lives. She knows "about 100" regular faces, of the more than 900 different people the M.O.S.T. van served last year. Most local street people are white and male she says, but there are women among them as well. "About half of them are alone on the streets," she says. "I met two who sleep in their cars. They have a kind of community, they watch out for each other, but I worry about them."
In addition to giving out clothes and food, Hulquist collects data on every new homeless person she meets. Age, health condition, how long they''ve been on the streets, whether they''re receiving any aid--anything that can help her agency serve them better. She makes medical appointments for them, arranges to pick them up and drive them to Natividad Medical Center, she gets them registered for disability, she arranges for cheap shelter in local hotels, she manages some of their SSI accounts. She even finds some of them work, like Patty, the feisty 40-something woman who''s been working as her van assistant for the past six months.
Hulquist says her work is "tremendously stressful," but despite the emotional intensity, she puts up few personal barriers between herself and the homeless people she serves. "They are my family," she points out.
"Ram Dass says that instead of closing your heart, you have to open your heart," she says. "Be ready to have some pain--you''ll live through it. I try to remember that. His teaching is, let your heart break over and over and over again."
For information and donations, call Shelter Outreach Plus at 384-3388 or the M.O.S.T. van at 596-7102.