A Bridge to Home portrait project by Gary Choppe puts faces behind the Santa Clarita Valley’s homeless population
Like thousands of other Santa Clarita Valley students, Michael Crosby, of Santa Clarita, once went to Soledad Canyon Elementary School and Sierra Vista Junior High in Canyon Country.
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He moved from the San Fernando Valley to the Santa Clarita Valley while they were still pouring concrete for the foundation of Canyon High School, from which he graduated.
The 55-year-old can remember working as a pig farmer in the then-rural Plum Canyon as a boy and, when he was an adult, he moved out to the Antelope Valley, and took a job at Lockheed Martin.
He’s not sure what went wrong; he’s still working through that as part of what he called his recovery. But at some point, he had a breakdown.
He developed an alcohol addiction. He lost his job.
And then he lost his house.
His face is one of several on display at the “Souls of Hope” exhibit at the Valencia Library, a perfect example of the type of person Bridge to Home is striving to help.
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Photographer Gary Choppe, president of the Choppe Advertising Group, is portraying faces of the local homeless population in hopes the stories told through pictures — one likes Crosby’s — will help put a face to the concern.
“They all need our help, support and a roof over their heads,” Choppe said, describing the idea behind the project in a previous interview. “Many are just like us and living from paycheck to paycheck.”
For Crosby, the fellowship and caring he encountered at the Santa Clarita Valley Emergency Winter Shelter was life-changing.
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He already had started to go to AA meetings to help his battle with addiction, but the care and concern from shelter officials gave him the motivation to continue on the right path, he said.
Many of those he encountered on the streets had no family, and no one to care about them, which makes it harder for one to care about themselves, he said.
He learned about the Santa Clarita Valley Emergency Winter Shelter, and seized the opportunity, showing up at 2 p.m. last year, even though the doors don’t technically open until 6 p.m.
Crosby didn’t know that — he just saw a chance to receive exactly the kind of help he was looking for, exactly what he needed.
It was through the help of Bridge to Home officials he connected with the Department of Mental Health and learned about “dual diagnoses.”
“My addiction was just a symptom of my problem,” Crosby said, discussing how treatment was helping.
He’s been going to meetings consistently, in the shelter and out, and his goal now is to be able to get to a point where he can lead peer groups of others coping with the same mental health issues.
He wanted to share his story as a means of giving back, and he’ll support the shelter any way he can, he said.
Shelter officials are on a path to grow, as well — in their efforts to help this underserved population.
The short-term goal is to identify a year-round site from a short list officials are making in conjunction with several different agencies, including the city of Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County and numerous nonprofits, said Tim Davis, executive director of Bridge to Home.
Shelter officials are constantly working to raise money for this move and awareness of the problem, while they help serve this population.
Officials are hopeful Choppe’s project will serve a dual purpose in that respect.
The Bridge to Home’s shelter is needed year-round and serves a wide range of need, Davis said.
“There’s a broad spectrum,” said Davis, who seems deeply connected to the community he serves. “This lady has been with us 10 years,” he said, alluding to one of Choppe’s portraits. “And there’s something missing, and she’ll never get better. There’s another gentleman over there, who, it really looks to me like he just cannot manage his money and his time properly.”
Shelter officials are working to teach him that skill, offering help and guidance. However, Davis’s goal is to make it so the shelter’s clients never need him again.
“(The problems range) from, there’s one little skill missing that if we can figure out how to get it in…” Davis said, “and there’s a couple of them on the board who have been with us for years and there’s something wrong and they probably won’t get better.”
However, just the compassion shown makes a world of difference, Crosby said.
“It’s that fellowship,” Crosby said. “They want to know how you’re doing, they keep up with you — they actually care. They give you a sense of hope, they do, so you can build yourself up.”
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