It Takes a Village: The City Center offers several programs to lead homeless families to independent living and lifelong success.

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The City Center staff, from left: Ralph and Melanie Shankle, Rick Barnes, Brandi Brown and Jim Duran.

By Tim Pompey | Photos by Viktor Budnik

Its manicured walls and gates sit quietly near the intersection of Thompson Boulevard and Ash Street. A former commercial motel in downtown Ventura, its history since 2009 has involved working with homeless families — taking them off the streets, providing counseling and guidance, and assisting them to graduate to a better way of life. This is The City Center Transitional Living today.

Jim Duran is the executive director of the City Center and Tender Life Maternity (a maternity home that provides housing and services for homeless pregnant women) and pastor of The River Community Church in Ventura. He has a long history of ministry and service in the city of Ventura.

Duran has been involved since the beginning. In 2009 he helped launch a transitional living center on Thompson Boulevard in Downtown Ventura that was at the time called the Kingdom Center. It was under the leadership of Sam Gallucci, then the pastor of the Harbor Community Church in Midtown Ventura. In late 2013, Gallucci gave notice that he was leaving Ventura and moving to Oxnard. As a stopgap, Duran appealed to the board of Project Understanding, a Ventura-based social services organization, to continue the Kingdom Center’s work.

“I actually reached out to our executive board at Project Understanding,” Duran recalled, “and asked them if we could run the operation until the new board was formed.”

It’s been a long journey since those early days. Project Understanding agreed to step in and maintain the site. A new board was formed, and members met every week to discuss how to keep Kingdom Center operational.

FOUNDED IN FAITH

The name was eventually changed to the City Center Transitional Living. A program was launched that focused on housing, case management, counseling, employment, savings, spiritual mentorship and graduation success. Donors, nonprofits, and private citizens pitched in to finish remodeling some of the rooms, do property upkeep and eventually build a learning center on site.

In the meantime, the City Center worked with the property owners to make affordable rent payments and keep the center operational. In the following years, money was raised, and a deal was negotiated to buy the property outright. After a decade of work, the results are impressive. The City Center is financially stable today and busily continues its service to homeless families.

The City Center is faith-based. From its early beginnings, the center was considered a church ministry.

“We’re a faith-based center and a religious 501(c)(3),” Duran explained. While residents are not required to subscribe to the Christian faith, they are encouraged to seek some form of spiritual mentorship. “The requirement is not that you have to fall in love with Jesus. The requirement is that you have to be engaged in some kind of a faith community once a week. If you’re Jewish, go to the temple once a week. If you’re an atheist, find a place where you can have fellowship with some kind of faith organization.”

In Duran’s view, this is important because “you’re going to eventually move out of here, so who is your community? When something goes wrong, who are you going to be able to get help from?”

MANY HELPING HANDS

The City Center continues to exist because local churches, nonprofits, businesses, contractors, and private individuals support its mission. Part of that work has involved several financial “miracles” along the way that have kept the center afloat. Behind the scenes, people have given generously out of their pockets, voluntarily pitched in to help with construction, contract, and permit services with the City of Ventura, and assisted with critical financial issues where needed.

But initially, it was rough sledding: When Gallucci left, some churches pulled out. In 2013, 19 rooms had been completed, but more remained to be done. City codes had to be properly permitted to allow for remodeling and the completion of additional new rooms.

New steps were constructed in the back, and a new playground was completed. The center has also opened a new learning center, a critical component for addressing the needs of parents and their children.

When he started the new City Center, Duran realized a different game plan was needed to assist their clients.

“We started to create a different structure,” he noted, “starting with how to get a job, onsite managers who lived here, and case management. You could live here up to 24 months to accomplish the five goals: getting a job, getting a car, saving your money, getting out of debt, and getting off of all government funding.”

When a resident accomplishes those five goals, they “graduate” from the program.

In addition, the City Center has now created a new level of housing for program graduates who might need additional time to continue their training or education.

While the City Center does take advantage of government resources such as job referrals and other services, their funding and support are based on the generosity of local donors and volunteers, plus the work of churches in Ventura, Ojai and Oxnard. In addition, it also has other community partners.

“It’s not just churches anymore,” Duran acknowledged. “It’s businesses, other nonprofits and other individuals.”

In addition, the City Center has a vast network of resources and referrals that they use to support their clients. These include parenting classes, financial classes, professional case management, budgeting management, and even a healing ministry for those who have personal traumas to overcome.

WORKING TOWARD A BETTER FUTURE

To reside at the City Center, potential residents need to be clean and sober for at least six months. A family with children 12 or younger would qualify for housing. Part of their housing agreement requires that they immediately seek and be willing to be employed. The center also serves as a job service. While living at the City Center, various resources exist for counseling, therapy and group support. Part of that support asks the client to develop spiritual support, however they may recognize their own spiritual or philosophical inclinations.

The bottom line is that residents must work.

“You have 30 days to get a job once you come in,” Duran explained. “And the way the job market is now, you can get a job, even if it’s entry-level. It doesn’t mean you have to stay there, but you have to build a work ethic. You have to show us and show yourself that you can work 40 hours a week.”

Duran views these requirements as not only character-building but life-affirming. “All of the tools that you need to be successful, all the skills, all the life skills, that’s what you’re going to learn here.”

The resources to keep the City Center going are considerable. Duran views this as hard work, but the center has also had some positive surprises along the way, noting that,

“What’s happened over the last 10 years has been a complete miracle.”
And it continues to work its way through life-changing experiences. As one resident testified in a video posted online, the work is impactful. “I’m a good mom today,” she said, “and everything I’ve learned, I apply that in my life because this is the new me.”

NONPROFIT OF THE YEAR

The Ventura Chamber of Commerce has recognized the City Center as the recipient of its Poinsettia Award for the 2023 Nonprofit of the Year. According to Stephanie Caldwell, the Chamber’s CEO, the center was nominated for the award last summer, and its final selection was only recently announced. The award will be presented on Thursday, Dec. 14, at a luncheon at the Ventura Beach Marriott.

“The award recognizes all the great work they do in the community,” said Caldwell. “The interesting thing about the City Center is the work that they’re doing, they don’t receive any government funding for that. They are helping folks out of homelessness with a very high level of success. It’s for those reasons that we were incredibly impressed not only by the scope of their work and the mission they’ve adopted, but also that they continue to expand and work within the community to engage folks on a variety of levels.”

And so the mission of City Center continues, quietly and positively. In practical and realistic terms, it offers struggling families a new start and a bright path out of homelessness.

The City Center Transitional Living
837 East Thompson Boulevard, Ventura
805.628.9035
www.thecitycenter.org

2023 Poinsettia Awards
Thursday, Dec. 14, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Ventura Beach Marriott
2055 East Harbor Boulevard, Ventura
venturachamber.com