“There are few things cooler than seeing someone who is living in interim housing get things in order and move into permanent housing after years of being chronically homeless,” said Jody Ketcheside, deputy chief operating officer for Turning Point of Central California.
Ketcheside should know. Her organization partners with the Fresno Housing Authority to provide a wide range of supportive services to chronically homeless people who need interim housing when they come off the streets. The Fresno Housing Authority (FHA) received funding from Homekey, an $800 million state program started in 2020 that purchases and renovates motels, hotels, and vacant apartment buildings, converting them to emergency housing for the homeless.
Yenny Aguilar, program director (left), and Marie Gonzalez, client service provider, enjoy snuggles with a puppy that belongs to a resident.
Dogs are popular companions for residents at Sun Lodge, and they get to enjoy some ‘me’ time at the facility’s dog park with their animal friends.
In 2021, Blue Shield of California contributed $20 million to Homekey’s ambitious statewide effort, which has since helped place thousands of homeless Californians into secure housing. One of the sites Blue Shield helped fund is Sun Lodge in Fresno, a former Days Inn, which Turning Point and the FHA opened to residents in February 2021.
“There’s a direct correlation between homelessness and health outcomes,” said Antoinette Mayer, Blue Shield’s senior director of Corporate Citizenship. “Poor housing conditions can contribute to health inequities and can negatively impact a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.”
According to Mayer, housing-insecure individuals are likely to experience reduced access to medical treatment and exhibit higher rates of disease and disability. They also struggle to satisfy basic needs, such as access to adequate food and nutrition and are subject to higher rates of physical and sexual violence.
“All of this increases health inequities for individuals who are housing insecure. This is why Blue Shield has invested so heavily in Homekey – we are committed to addressing health disparities,” she said.
Over the past 14 months, more than 225 people have found shelter at Sun Lodge, which can accommodate up to 130 people at a time. Although roommates are not permitted, dogs are — and they are very much a part of most residents’ families.
“About 90 percent of our guests have dogs, and they rely quite heavily on their animals for emotional support. We encourage that. Dogs can have a calming effect on their owners, and they are tons of fun,” said Ketcheside.
Residents, who range in age from 18 to 62 years old, stay at Sun Lodge for an average of six months while the Turning Point team helps them find permanent housing.
“Most of our residents have been chronically homeless and come to us from encampments in need of triage help,” Ketcheside said. “They often have mental health or substance abuse issues but welcome the reliable meals and social services that offer them stability and the potential to secure permanent housing.”
“For couples in recovery who are working hard to reunite with their children, we help them work towards that goal,” she added.
Recently, a Sun Lodge resident was honored in the Fresno Mayor’s State of the City address for his success in seizing the opportunities that Homekey’s interim housing and Turning Point’s support services offered him.
“He jumped on the chance at a better life and succeeded by getting his own permanent place to live. That’s a success for all of us,” continued Ketcheside, who was also honored in the mayor’s address, hailed as a Homeless Hero.
It’s something she is quietly proud of but prefers to let the life-changing work she and her team do speak for itself.
“What keeps us all going are the positive outcomes, a person’s move from here to a permanent home,” she said.
Note: Residents of Sun Lodge requested anonymity, so no photos were permitted.