Growing Pains: Thirty Years in the History of Davis

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Chapter 5 - An Army of Volunteers to Serve the Needy

The foundation was already in place by 1968, the volunteer spirit already strong. There were big gaps, though, in the social-service network that sought to provide a safety net for Davis residents. Over the ensuing 25 years, an army of volunteers worked tirelessly to fill in those gaps, often without recognition or thanks. Time after time, a tragedy or crisis hit the community, or one of its residents. A critical shortcoming in the community's social service programs was discovered by family members, friends, neighbors or activists. Together, a small group pitched in to find a solution, often by creating a new organization that would depend on their continued support year by year. The efforts of such groups helped thousands of residents lead happier, healthier lives, and gave Davis a strong, perhaps unique safety net of social service programs.

In 1968, senior citizens could join the 50 Plus Club to play card games and plan trips at the Roundhouse in Chestnut Park. Down-and-out residents often relied on local churches for assistance. The community was just starting to come to grips with drug problems among its teenagers. STEAC would later become a mainstay of the community's efforts to help the needy, but in 1968 was only a couple of years old. A study conducted by the Davis Human Relations Council and UCD Equal Opportunity Advisory Committee discovered an urgent need for moderately priced housing, so more people who worked in town could afford to live here as well. Davis Community Hospital had just opened its doors in 1968. Help was available for the mentally ill, but big gaps existed in the area's s mental -health services.

Much of the volunteer workload fell on traditional service clubs, many of which remained important 25 years later. The Soroptimist Club of Davis was helping set up a clothing bank for the county's needy residents in 1968. The Venture Club was busy with a host of projects. A coalition of groups worked to strengthen the community's youth programs. The Yolo County Health Council established a sick-room equipment loan closet, where any county resident could borrow needed equipment if referred by a physician. About 300 women participated in that year's Cancer Crusade, knocking on doors throughout the community.

The outside world often saw Davis was an unusual place with a passion for progressive politics, a trailblazer willing to try new approaches for dealing with old problems. In many ways, though, Davis was an old-fashioned town, the kind where neighbors still took time to know one another despite the hectic pace of everyday life, where a trip to the supermarket or downtown ended up being a chance to catch up on the latest news from old friends, where young families came to lay down roots, drawn by good schools and a small-town atmosphere.

And, throughout the era, it was community where people were always ready to pitch in and help a good cause. Like other communities, Davis has changed over the years. More and more parents worked. A host of social forces tugged at family bonds, often shattering them. Crime was a serious problem, as were drug abuse, homelessness, mental illness and the need for low-cost housing. Fortunately, though, the community's volunteer spirit remained strong An army of volunteers worked day after day, year after year. Some organizations were nearly invisible, except to the people who depended on their help. Many volunteers kept plugging away, month after month, year after year. In August, 1995, Jerilyn Cochran, the city's social services administrator, estimated volunteers had contributed 50,000 hours of their time to the city during the preceding year. Many served on city committees and commissions. Others helped out at the teen center, Senior Center, city recreation activities, the city's mediation service or other programs. "The help offered by these volunteers saves the city hundreds of thousands of dollars each year," she said in a letter inviting them to a special celebration honoring their efforts that was held at the Davis Farmers Market on Sept. 6, 1995. According to Cochran, more than 500 volunteers contributed to city programs and the community had at least 4,000 individuals who did volunteer work of some sort for public agencies or private organizations. County and city officials assisted by helping fund many programs, and offering a host of their own.

Every army has it leaders. So it is in Davis, where a small group of activists have left an indelible mark on the community over the last 30 years. Time and time again, they were ready to roll up their sleeves and go to work on behalf of suicidal residents, the mentally ill, the homeless, abused residents and other groups in need of help.

A case in point was Dr. John Jones, a local doctor who in 1972 founded the Davis Free Clinic. Serving the needy was natural for Jones. He grew up in Piggott, Ark., the son of a rural doctor who often received a chicken or foodstuffs, instead of money for his services. His appreciation for human life grew during World War II, where he survived almost a year at a prisoner-of-war camp in Poland. And, he learned a lot about the special needs of drug addicts and others working as a volunteer physician at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic in San Francisco. Jones was there to witness the heyday of the hippie era at San Francisco's Summer of Love in 1967. During the day, he worked at UCD's Cowell Student Health Center. In the evening, he would be at the Haight-Ashbury clinic, spending much of his time treating street people with drug problems, venereal diseases and other ailments. He was on hand to handle medical emergencies when the Rolling Stones performed for two days at Candlestick Park, drawing crowds of about 75,000 people both days.

Davis, of course, was no Haight-Ashbury, but it too had drug addicts and street people with little money and no insurance to handle health problems that needed attention. Into the void stepped Jones and a small group of compatriots. They opened their program as an adjunct to Diogenes House in 1969, setting out on their own in 1972, establishing the Davis Free Clinic. For awhile, Jones set up shop at the Friends Meeting of Davis at 345 L St., using makeshift tables and screens. "It just kind of grew. There was more and more need," recalled his wife Nancy. Jones also began visiting the area's farm labor camps and hippie encampments in the foothills, using a converted milk-delivery truck as a traveling clinic.

The Free Clinic started out offering non-emergency general medical services, but its mission grew rapidly, as the area's population grew and needs changed. It established a women's health program 1973, and the clinic added drug detoxification, perinatal day treatment and mental health counseling to its list of services the following year. A perinatal program was added in 1979, a pediatric program was created in 1984, and the clinic inaugurated primary dental care in 1991. In the early 1980s, clinic officials branched out to West Sacramento, opening the John H. Jones Community Clinic to provide drug rehabilitation, counseling and educational services there. The organization expanded again in 1993, when county officials decided to shut down Yolo General Hospital and turn over operation of other county health facilities to the private sector. Clinic officials took over operation of two facilities: Peterson Clinic in Woodland and Salud Clinic in West Sacramento. Officials also set up an umbrella organization, CommuniCare Health Centers, to operate the four clinics. Despite its rapid growth, organizational changes and ambitious plans for the future, the Davis Community Clinic continued to rely on volunteer physicians and nurses. Medical students from UCD also helped out, many as volunteers. Other volunteers served as counselors, support workers, lab technicians, class instructors and clerical help.

In the 1990s, the Community Clinic outgrew its 5,200-square-foot facility at 620 G St., and mounted an $850,000 fundraising campaign to construct and equip a new 10,000-square-foot building near the new Sutter Davis Hospital. On May 9, 1997, the clinic opened its new facility just in time to also celebrate the 25th anniversary of its service to Davis. The project, though, had to proceed without Jones, who died on Nov. 1, 1991. "The underdog never had a better friend than John Jones," Enterprise columnist Bob Dunning wrote a few days later, noting that the doctor had received many humanitarian awards over the years. Jones, for example, became the first recipient of a Humanitarian of the Year Award presented by the Davis Human Relations Council and four years later won the Brinley Award, an annual honor bestowed on a Davis resident for noteworthy contributions to a individual civic project. "I think what he had was a great appreciation of life," Nancy Jones said, explaining why her husband was willing to contribute so much of his time to volunteer work. "And, it was fun for him. It wasn't work."

As Jones witnessed the Summer of Love in San Francisco, a small group of Davis activists were contemplating ways to help families that needed an emergency meal, clothing, shelter or furniture. Local churches were willing to offer a helping hand when they could, but their efforts were ad hoc and uncoordinated. Some needy residents took advantage, going from church to church for help. The remedy came from a small group of local residents, who set up STEAC, the Short Term Emergency Aid Committee of Davis. The goal was to lay a community-wide support base so help would be available immediately in emergencies. "In addition, we strive to help recipients maintain a sense of dignity, despite their need for emergency aid," explained an information pamphlet for new volunteers.

Every day of the year, holiday or not, STEAC takes telephone calls from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., ready to offer food for hungry individuals and families, shelter for destitute families and assault victims, help for stranded travelers, and donated clothing and furniture for needy families. Though based in Davis, STEAC offers its services throughout the county, getting clients through referrals from other agencies. Priority is given to people in Davis, families with children and the disabled.

In 1994, STEAC helped more than 5,000 people, providing emergency housing to nearly 1,300, food to almost 2,000 and clothing to more than 250. During the holidays, it supplied baskets of food and gifts to 392 families, with help from individuals, families, organizations, departments at UCD and local businesses.

Doing most of the work was a cadre of about 40 volunteers, many of whom took turns manning the telephone in four-hour shifts. Over the years, STEAC volunteers have gained a reputation for doing their jobs quietly, without fanfare and few overhead expenses. Revenue came from the county, United Way of Sacramento, community contributions and grants from local, state and federal governments. "They've really set a good organizational model for others," Cochran said. Many STEAC volunteers returned year after year. "There's no question about it," said Shirley Kreissman, a STEAC volunteer for almost two decades. "You get more out of it than you put in."

Everyone knew the Chestnut Park Roundhouse wasn't the long-term solution to the needs of senior citizens. In about 1969, city officials decided to have senior citizens and local teenagers share the Davis Teen Center at 117 F St., the building that earlier had housed the Davis branch of the county library. Three years later, the city Parks and Community Services Department leased storefront space on Second Street to house senior citizen programs. At about the same time, the Fifty Plus Club changed its name to Senior Citizens of Davis.

Momentum built rapidly in ensuing years. The City Council established a Senior Citizen Commission in 1973 and the city started providing transportation for seniors the following year, thanks to a van provided by Harter Volkswagen. As senior programs and activities expanded in the following years, talk turned to the need for a new, larger building to replace the one-room Second Street site. In 1978, the Senior Commission and Senior Citizens of Davis launched a drive to build a permanent senior center.

Events unfolded rapidly, as a new decade dawned. The council appropriated money to draw up plans for the new center in 1980, set aside money for the building; decided it should be built at the corner of Seventh and A streets the following year, and started construction in 1982. The first phase of the center was completed in 1983, the second phase in 1987. The center's multipurpose room is big enough to accommodate more than 300 for dining and about 350 for meetings. The center featured art workshops, billiards, exercise programs, card games, discussion groups, sewing, health education lectures, singing classes, creative writing and science lectures. The Travelaires organized trips. A free computer-generated telephone service was available for senior citizens and other Davis residents who requested daily calls to check on their safety. A monthly senior newsletter was mailed to subscribers. Davis Senior Transit offered curb-to-curb transportation for anyone at least 60 years old. And legal, financial, health and other services was available.

Several private organizations also were ready to help. Citizens Who Care Inc., for instance, offered an in-home respite program for frail older adults and a nursing home program. In the former, volunteers and nurses made home visits to help seniors maintain their own homes whenever possible. The goal: to provide companionship for clients, relief for the individuals who regularly cared for them and support for families. The Yolo Adult Day Health Center committed itself to helping the elderly and disabled residents maintain their independence. It offered many services, including physical, occupational and speech therapy, a recreation program, social services and nursing care. The latter program matched volunteers with nursing home residents who received few visitors. The American Association of Retired Persons offered social and other programs.

Pat and Bill Williams of Davis knew they had to do something. Both of their sons were mentally ill, and Yolo County didn't have the programs they needed. Andy, the younger son, appeared to suffer the most: periodic bouts of devastating depression and dramatic crises, hospitalization on 18 occasions. David, the older son, was 17 years old when his life began to fall apart in 1965. He could hold jobs and live on his own, but underneath the surface, his life was his haunted by schizophrenia and, to a lesser extent, manic depression. Sometimes, he felt on top of the world. More often, he was terribly depressed. In 1981, at age 33, he committed suicide.

Pat and Bill Williams never were the kind of people to sit around and bemoan their fates. Instead, they devoted their lives to helping ease the suffering of their sons and other victims of mental illness. In the process, they joined with a small group of other mental health advocates to build a model program in Yolo County. The goal was to provide a full range of mental health services, so help would be waiting when needed. No more, they hoped, would many residents have to fight their mental demons alone.

The mentally ill weren't without options when the Williams got involved. Yolo County offered mental health programs. Hospitalization was always an option. Davis already had Sihaya House, a residence established by a small group of local residents for mentally ill adults who needed a supervised place to stay at night while maintaining jobs, schooling or other pursuits during the day. The Williams, though, found that big gaps existed in the types of programs offered, worrying particularly about David. "I know he needed more than we had," Pat Williams recalled. In 1976, a small group started a local chapter of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill, a support group for the families of the mentally ill. The following year, Yolo Satellite Housing was set up as a residential program for mentally ill adults in a house the Williams owned in Woodland. The program later moved to a rented house in Davis.

Ironically, Yolo County's big break came after the state shut down some of its hospitals for the mentally ill, releasing many adults who could be treated with prescription drugs to communities across the state. In response, the Legislature passed a bill in 1978 that offered funding for communities seeking to set up their own programs for the mentally ill. Only about $3 million was set aside statewide for the first year, but Yolo County was ready to take advantage of its opportunity. Pat Williams was leading caravans of county supervisors, mental health experts, and others interested in the plight of the mentally ill to visit a model program already up and running in Marin County. So, Yolo County knew what it wanted. As a result Pat Williams and county mental health officials submitted an ambitious funding application to the state. It was unusual because it sought a full-range of residential services for the mentally ill. State officials obviously were impressed, because they awarded the new YCCC $708,000 of the available funds. The only major defeat was the state's decision not to fund a crisis center that would offer an alternative to hospitalization. YCCC, though, would find a way to add that later.

By 1995, budget problems were taking a toll, but most programs remained intact. Safe Harbor offered an alternative to hospitalization for adults who needed intensive 24-hour supervision because of mental-health crises. Participants had to enter the program voluntarily, and stayed from two to 14 days. For people who needed long-term residential care, YCCC offered Farmhouse, a long-term care facility that provided highly structured group living in a rural setting. The program served both as an alternative to state hospitals and as a first step back into the community after years in institutional settings. The last step in YCCC's residential services was its cooperative housing program for individuals who were ready to live independently, but needed some support. Typically, participants shared houses. YCCC helped residents with day-to-day problems, including dealings with landlords, relationships and budgeting. Haven House and East Yolo House were daytime socialization centers that helped participants build support systems and social networks. Vocational Services, the organization's vocational training program, helped participants get jobs by assisting with resumes, offering job coaching and providing other services.

Yolo County had made great strides, but the Williams weren't ready to rest yet. Davis still needed a high-quality board-and-care home for mentally ill adults who required more round-the-clock care than programs like Sihaya House had traditionally provided. In the mid-1980s, the Williams proposed establishing just such a program in two houses located on an 11th Street lot they owned. The plans created a firestorm of controversy during public hearings. Neighbors worried about having 13 mentally ill adults in their neighborhood, but city officials decided to give the program a chance, allowing Pine Tree Gardens East to open in 1986. In 1990, city officials approved plans for opening Pine Tree Garden East in an Eighth Street house that could accommodate up to 10 adults. That time around, the opposition was far quieter, more polite. The reason was simple: the Williams had proven they could run an exemplary program. Pat Williams, though, still wasn't content. She worried about the future, how managed care might affect mental health programs by restricting access and limiting services. Moreover, paying the bills for Pine Tree Gardens was never easy. In 1995, for example, a large gap existed between the program's monthly costs of about $1,244 and the $671 residents typically received from the federal government. To cover much of the difference, the Williams relied on fundraisers.

Building low-cost housing is a challenge in most cities around California, including Davis. The City Council recognized that in 1984 when it set up Davis Community Housing, a non-profit organization that later changed its name to Community Housing Opportunities Corp. The drive to set up the organization was spearheaded by Councilwoman Ann Evans, an outspoken advocate of affordable housing. The organization later became independent of the city, but maintained close ties, basically serving as a private-sector developer of affordable housing with funding from money the city receives through the federal government's Community Development Block Grant Program.

Two CHOC projects have won merit awards in national design competitions sponsored by Builder magazine: the Willowoak Apartments in 1993 and Tuscany Villas in 1994. By 1993, the organization had become one of the largest commercial developers in the area. In 1995, for example, the Sacramento Business Journal listed CHOC as the third largest commercial developer in a region that includes Sacramento, Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties. The ranking was based on construction costs of $16.4 million for projects CHOC built. During the preceding year, the organization ranked second, with construction costs of nearly $19.4 million. The rankings included developers who build apartments and other commercial projects, but did not consider homebuilders. By 1995, CHOC had built nearly 400 apartments and self-help houses in Davis and had about 100 more in the pipeline. CHOC residences typically were about 30 percent lower than market rates, in large part because of about $2.5 million in city subsidies committed to the organizations over the years.

As the years pass, needs change. Sometimes, existing programs reorient themselves in response to changing circumstances. Sometimes, new organizations appear on the scene to help out. As the 1990s dawned, community activists looked for new ways to help the homeless, as well as needy residents who had difficulty putting enough food on their tables week after week.

A pivotal event was a meeting organized by local activists at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in August 1990. Shoshana Zatz, one of the participants, recalled about a dozen people attended, determined to identify any significant gaps in the social services available to Davis residents. One group helped found the Davis Senior Housing and Care Continuum. The other committed itself to helping the homeless, banding together with others to found Davis Community Meals in 1990.

The group began serving dinner every Tuesday at St. Martin's Parish Hall in 1991 and started offering lunch on Saturdays in 1993. At first, only about 20 people attended the Tuesday meals. Soon, though, about 100 people were turning out on a typical Tuesday and about 60 were on hand for an average Saturday. Some were homeless. Others were single parents or couples with large families whose food budgets were stretched to the limit. Some were senior citizens seeking a good meal and companionship. Afterward, participants were allowed to take leftover food with them. Often, leftover food was plentiful, thanks in large part to donations of produce from the Davis Farmers Market and bread, produce, canned goods and other foodstuffs from local stores.

The program also allowed Davis Community Meals to fulfill a second goal: finding out more about the homeless and their needs. Already, the group was working to establish a cold-weather shelter and resource center in Davis. At the time, the community had no homeless shelter. Homeless residents could go to the Wayfarer Center in Woodland, but getting there could be a problem. Zatz noted that the Rainbow Coalition and Yolo Housing Alliance earlier had tried to get permission to use a migrant-worker center located several miles south of Davis as a cold-weather shelter, since the workers don't use it during winter months. That effort, however, failed, in part because of lingering questions over such issues as how the homeless would be transported to the center.

A city-owned building at 512 Fifth St. served as the group's cold-weather shelter during the winter of 1993 and Davis Community Meals leased a house at 736 G St. the following winter to shelter the homeless. In November, 1993, the group got city permission to open a resource center for the homeless at the Newman Center, 411 Fifth St. The resource center was set up to give the a daytime refuge and offer resources such as job-search assistance, information on available resources and referrals to help shelter residents break out of the cycle of homelessness and assist other residents who run the risk of becoming homeless. "We will be helping homeless people to help themselves by offering them resource tools and guidance," officials explained in a letter to neighbors of the resource center. "We look forward to them becoming resilient and self-sufficient citizens."

In 1994, Davis Community Meals found itself a permanent home, a house with approximately 1,800 feet of space at 1111 H St. To help out, the city kicked in $100,00 from its Housing Trust Fund and $30,000 in CDBG funds for acquisition of the site and committed additional grant funds for operating the shelter. The house can accommodate 16 people, and typically was filled nightly during winter months. During warm-weather months, Davis Community Meals used the site as transitional housing for families referred by the Wayfarer Center.

Some neighbors were nervous about having a homeless shelter move into their neighborhood, particularly because Discovery Preschool & Child Care Center was located nearby. After a year, though, the shelter had won the respect of many neighbors. "We're extremely pleased at the way things have turned out," said Eileen Ailman, the preschool's director, reporting that the shelter has been a good neighbor.

Continue to Chapter 6...