By Sue Schramm
For the first time in decades, the Central California Conference (CCC) voted during March to cancel Soquel Camp Meeting. Some questioned why they didn’t just wait and see how the pandemic would play out before canceling. But God had a different plan for the campground in the months to come.
Everything had screeched to a halt as the coronavirus pandemic made its way to every state in North America. The governor of California announced a shelter-in-place order, and the state stood still to reduce the rapid spread of the virus.
“Shelter in place” means you stay indoors, in your place of residence. Most people stocked up on toilet paper and food and waited at home with their families. But not everyone had a place to shelter in. The Transitional Age Youth (TAY) program of Santa Cruz County serves homeless youth ages 18-24 who have aged out of the foster care system and don’t have other assistance as they transition to adulthood.
“The pandemic has affected every segment of society; one of those has been young adults experiencing homelessness in the County of Santa Cruz,” explained Ramiro Cano, CCC president. “We have opened the doors to ten trailers to assist up to 30 individuals.”
The county worked closely with administration and came to the conclusion that Soquel Conference Center was a perfect emergency, shelter-in-place, 24/7, trailer-based housing option. It was in the middle of the county, met the needed infrastructure of the trailer program, allowed pets, and provided a secure place for the program to continue.
“By opening up our doors to the TAY program, we have provided a safe place where these young people can heal and move on with their lives,” said Todd Gallemore, Soquel Conference Center manager. “It has also allowed us to continue to build and strengthen our relationship with the County of Santa Cruz, which in turn allowed us to serve as the second-largest evacuation center during the CZU Lightning Complex Fire.”
“Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help” (Isaiah 58:7, NLT).
Meg Clark, TAY program manager, and additional county workers provide a diverse range of support services while working closely with Gallemore. The sheltered young adults have individualized case management supporting them with their education and employment goals. In state-provided trailers, TAY family units are sheltered and able to stabilize their independence and live within the community.
“What’s it worth? Well, it is what one is willing to pay for it. That is the question we must ask with those experiencing homelessness,” said Cano. “The answer is they are worth the life of Jesus Christ who died on the cross for them. In other words, ‘priceless.’ Opening Soquel campground to the TAY program is an opportunity to express the love of Jesus in a very tangible way.” Gallemore echoed Cano’s thought, saying, “Being the hands and feet of Jesus is not complicated. It is as easy as opening our hearts and doors and extending the hand of friendship.”