Political star power fights homelessness

RANCHO BERNARDO — Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to a sold out crowd to benefit North County Solutions for Change and help achieve its goal to solve family homelessness in the region on Oct. 8.
The star-studded event held at Rancho Bernardo Inn raised an astounding $1.3 million, far surpassing the organizers’ goals of $250,000. “An Evening to Remember” was part of the organization’s “Finding Our Way Home” initiative, whose goal is to lead 200 families and their 400 children out of homelessness within three years.
More than 600 families have successfully completed the Solutions program, with several of those families present at the gala.
The organization was founded on the principle that family homelessness can be solved. Executive Director Chris Megison, who founded the organization in 1999 with his wife Tammy, said the families that enter the organization’s “university” are given the tools to succeed in life rather than a temporary fix.  
In that time, the organization has saved taxpayers more than $28 million by helping families permanently solve their homelessness.
“There is a difference between containing homelessness and solving it,” he said. While seasonal shelters are valuable, they don’t get to the root problems that lead to homelessness, Megison said.
Over a decade ago when Megison was a Marine, he was on the losing end of a bet with a consequence of service at a local soup kitchen.
“It changed my life,” he said. “I met a little girl named Jessica and she asked me if I lived in the shelter,” Megison recalls. “I got done on one knee and told her that I didn’t and that I was going to do everything I could to make sure she had a house, too.”
In fact, Megison and his wife made good on the promise and the child who transformed his life’s work and purpose is now in college.
“No child should have to live with the uncertainty of not knowing where they are going to go next,” he said.
Dr. Rice captivated an audience of 600 diverse supporters and community members with her inspirational words on the past, present and future of America. She spoke to the need for the community to support those who are weak — including the homeless, those stricken by poverty and oppressed women.
One of the program’s graduates was in attendance at the gala. Liliana, 40, who prefers not to use her last name, is the mother of three boys ranging in age from 13 to 18. In 2006, she was evicted again from her apartment.
“I had hit rock bottom, I was using drugs for 22 years and finally my family stepped in and took my kids,” she said. Her husband had also left her because of her “lies and manipulation.”
In a twist of fate, Liliana was given the number to Solutions by a welfare investigator who suspected she was attempting to defraud the government by accessing services for her children who did not live with her.
“He encouraged me to get my life in order,” she said. “I had never even met this person and he helped save me.”
Liliana entered a drug rehab program while her husband and three children began the intense journey to self-sufficiency at Solutions. She eventually joined her family. Watching her children line up at a homeless shelter was a motivator to stay clean and stick with the program.
“It gave me the drive to do whatever it took to get my family out of the situation,” she said.
After nine months in transitional housing, she and her husband graduated from the program. Megison has bought dozens of affordable housing units in North County so residents can move into the community. They are required to have a job and savings of $2,000 before they can graduate into one of these homes or apartments.
The program doesn’t end after the move. In fact, the last 500 days are critical, as participants learn to live independently with the discipline, structure and support of the Solutions program.
Liliana has worked for the organization for the past four years.
“Mind you I’ve never had a job in my life,” she said. “But these people trusted me and gave me a second chance.”
Her family’s success is one of many stories that Megison wants to replicate by raising $20 million in three years in order to purchase more affordable housing.
“We started this last year and raised $10 million,” he said. “It’s a public, private partnership with a lot of people and entities supporting an end to homelessness.”
“This place helped me find my way home. It allowed me to be the woman I’ve always wanted to be,” Liliana said. “No matter what life throws at me I’ve gained the skills to deal with it.”
For more information, visit SolutionsForChange.org or call (760) 941-6545.

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