OCEANSIDE — Vanessa Graziano has a unique sense of sympathy for homeless people after experiencing homelessness herself. Now, she is giving back by providing resources that are often limited for those without stable shelter to use.
The mother of three once owned her own music studio, a house in Oceanside and had family support nearby in Carlsbad where she grew up. After her divorce, however, everything seemed to change.
Graziano became heavily involved in drugs and developed a meth addiction that she grappled with for five years. She lost her house, her kids and her sense of self.
“All of the sudden I was just this shadow,” Graziano said.
Her family didn’t understand what happened to her either.
Graziano spent six months living in her car, moving around to different places so that she wouldn’t get in trouble.
Child Protective Services got involved and tried to help, but she wasn’t listening at first. Eventually, after her mother took her daughter away, things began to change again for Graziano.
CPS worked with Graziano over a period of months and eventually she was able to get Section 8 Housing. Now, Graziano is a property manager of vacation rentals and lives in one of the properties she manages.
She also went through rehabilitation.
“I’ll be sober five years on the 25th of this month,” she said.
After she became sober, she began volunteering to give back to those who went through homelessness like her.
“Being where I’ve been allows me to have compassion and see where there is hope,” Graziano said.
Graziano teamed up with the Oceanside Sanctuary to help out at their Tuesday night dinners several months back. After the sanctuary’s kitchen was closed, she wanted to find another way to continue giving back.
On Saturday, Feb. 8, the Oceanside Homeless Resources group that Graziano started held its third monthly breakfast and resource fair for the homeless. The group partnered with the Oceanside Sanctuary to begin hosting the resource fairs at its South Freeman Street location.
The resource fair offers showers, haircuts, hygiene kits, clothing and a variety of other resources for those living on the streets to use. Several organizations like Narcotics Anonymous, Brother Benno’s, Duwara Consciousness Foundation and Vista Community Clinic set up booths to help inform people with what other services are available to them.
Jimena Avila, one of the volunteers who handed out bags with hygiene kits, could see the difference in people from when they arrived to when they left.
“You could tell when they showed up they were hungry,” Avila said.
Avila noticed the physical changes — greasy hair getting cleaned and facial hair being tamed, but she also noticed the changes in attitudes as well.
“They were smiling and glowing,” Avila said.
The resource fair also highlighted the absence of overnight shelters in Oceanside. According to the 2019 WeAllCount put together by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, Oceanside had 290 unsheltered homeless people, the third-highest number behind San Diego’s count of 2,600 and El Cajon’s 298 unsheltered homeless.
Because Oceanside doesn’t have overnight shelters, many homeless can set up camp throughout the city and won’t get in trouble because the city has nowhere they can go.
Graziano has been meeting with City Council members to see what more can be done to help the city’s homeless population. She wants to see the city come together on this “human and heart issue” rather than make it political.
Besides the resource fair, Graziano’s group also helps seven different homeless families as they wait to find housing. Members of those families have been giving back when they can too, she said, noting one of the mothers makes blankets for the homeless and recently helped start a sewing club at her daughter’s school.
Additionally, Graziano personally meets with homeless youth by the Oceanside Pier not only to give them supplies like sleeping bags and tents but also to talk to them and invite them to events like the resource fair.
Graziano is in the process of making the Oceanside Homeless Resources into an official nonprofit organization.
Many people write off homeless as trouble, but Graziano wants residents to begin seeing that there is more to these people who have fallen on hard times.
“They’re not just drug addicts,” she said.
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son