Project Dignity was founded in 1991 to help the homeless in our own neighborhood. We provide services to low income homeless families living in residential motels in Orange County. For the most part, our adult clients are working, but “underemployed” in low paying and/or part time jobs without benefits. There’s probably not a community in the United States that doesn’t have at least one of these motels. They generally start life as a tourist motel and after years of aging transition from tourist to residential accommodations.
There are nearly 2,000 homeless children living in the motels in Orange County, California, alone. Families don’t live there by choice, but by necessity because housing prices and living wages are miles apart in most communities. In Orange County they have become the substitute for “affordable housing”. They are a sad substitute but without them, there would be even more homeless on the streets.
Many ask, “What is the government doing about this?” Our founder Linda Dunlap’s response was, “Who is the government? We the people”.
She decided the time for pointing fingers and shifting blame had to end, because while the debate raged on, children were going hungry within walking distance of her home. They were living with their parents and siblings in single motel rooms the size of her master bedroom.
Linda knew she couldn’t build homes for the families, but she could certainly feed them, and so she did. She knew one person could make a difference. She proved it by caring for her homeless friends until her death in 2008.
Her example remains an inspiration to all of us at Project Dignity. We hope it will inspire you too.
Gary and Nancy’s Story
(Names changed to protect privacy. Story 100% true.)
Sometimes we have a “Pay if Forward” experience that illuminates why we continue to serve, and never give up no matter how long it takes.
We met Gary and Nancy about 10 years ago. They were a young couple living in a motel, struggling to stay afloat. Our programs assisted them several times during their journey out of homelessness. Eventually they found good jobs, worked hard and got the chance to move into their own apartment.
We provided them with financial assistance to move and get situated in their own apartment, wished them well and said a fond “Goodbye”. A couple of years later they called us to say they were moving from the apartment into a nice little rental house. A couple of years later they called to tell us they were buying their own home!
Finally, three years ago they called and told us because of the faith we’d had in them and all the help and support we’d given, they wanted to donate $1,400 to help someone else move out.
It’s a fairy tale ending, but the story doesn’t end there.
The following Christmas they called us once again, wanting to make another donation. We met the couple in their church parking lot. They were standing next to their brand new, 2012 Camaro. They told us they had no bills, only paid cash for anything they needed and intended never to be homeless again. Incidentally, they gave us a check for $2,000 to help someone else move out.
Success for us was the light we saw in this couple’s eyes. To be privileged to be part of their journey makes us blessed indeed. This is why we never give up. You never know what can happen when someone knows you believe in them.