Kay Wilson-Bolton Talks About Alleviating Homelessness in Southern California

Kay Wilson-Bolton, Volunteer Director of Spirit of Santa Paula, was interviewed by host Adam Torres on the Mission Matters Business Podcast.

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In this interview, Kay Wilson-Bolton shares how Spirit of Santa Paula is fighting to end homelessness in its California community through continuing local support.

What mission matters to you?

Wilson-Bolton says she would like to live in a community where everyone is treated equally and help is provided to those in need. To that end, she explains, Spirit of Santa Paula works to alleviate and even prevent homelessness. 

How did you get started on this path?

SPIRIT of Santa Paula was founded in 2002 by six businesspeople who wanted to do their part for the welfare of the community. “We started off by being the middling ground in a contentious land use initiative between two groups,” she notes, and in the nearly two decades since, the nonprofit has grown into something of a local institution.

One Christmas Eve years ago, Wilson-Bolton was called to a scene where a homeless man was found dead in a church. “As a chaplain with the Ventura County Fire Department, I went there and was introduced to homelessness in my community for the first time,” she recalls. “I discussed the matter with our Board of Directors. Once they were on board, we decided to figure out how to address the issue of homelessness and help people.”

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Challenges along the way

“We began by serving hot meals for homeless people,” she says, and by the next winter, the board had arranged a shelter inside a church, but it was challenging to leave them there alone: “I remember spending the nights there to supervise while managing my full-time job as a real estate broker.”

The financial crisis of 2008 accelerated the rate of homelessness, she notes, and while Spirit of Santa Paula was meeting some of the needs of the people it served, the scope was growing. 

“Today, we find the lack of housing a major barrier to end(ing) homelessness,” she says. “People are moving towards the coast, which will exponentially increase the demand for housing. Big homeless families scare landlords, and rightly so, as they want to protect their property. But this can lead to an increase in homeless people on the streets.”

Recent developments  

Currently, Spirit of Santa Paula is working to augment its food and shelter services by developing a program called Launch. Wilson-Bolton says it seeks to offer an environment conducive to skill development. 

“Most homeless people do not complete high school or have the right documents to get enough job opportunities,” she says. “Our program is designed to equip them to take the next steps to live a normal life. We provide them with housing, shower, refrigerator, washer, dryer access, healthcare, and other basic facilities to reduce the life barriers.” 

The Launch program is a potential roadmap toward employment, and ultimately, greater stability. “The first benchmark of success is if someone is willing to put in efforts to stay clean and sober and feels ready for case management,” she notes.

What’s next for the organization?

Wilson-Bolton says Spirit of Santa Paula recently received a grant of one and a half million dollars from the state of California for building enhancement and enlargement to kick off their Launch program. She says the organization is always looking for new team members who have experience working with homeless populations, or who have experienced homelessness themselves and are now in a position to help others, to join them in their mission. 

To learn more about Spirit of Santa Paula, visit spiritofsantapaula.org