"The first need is to save the homeless children"
~Divine Discourse, Rancho Santa Fe, California, June 24th, 2016
During Bhagawan’s visit in Northern California in June 2016, the host conveyed to Bhagawan the irony about Silicon Valley: that this area is one of the richest in the world but also has the highest homeless population in the United States. Silence consumed the moment and after a while, Our Bhagawan replied: “You MUST find a permanent solution to homelessness" During the public meeting last year, Bhagawan went through the awareness area and patiently saw all the different seva activities that young adults were doing for the past year. He was very happy that the young adults were doing seva every month, but he asked us to think beyond providing food. He said “giving food is good but they will be hungry in another 4 hours”. He stressed us to think how to self-equip them.
Bhagawan further directed that we should focus on helping the homeless children.“The children are suffering for no reason, since they did not choose a life like that and are suffering due to the choices of their family”. He said the children are the future of the society. It is the responsibility of society to give them proper education, health and proper growth, without which they will not be able to earn and feed themselves. Bhagawan asked the youth to think beyond temporary solutions (homeless feeding, clothing, etc.) and focus on providing shelter and education along with food and clothing to create a sustainable permanent solution. He named this massive initiative as “SAI (Social Advancement Initiative) Ashraya (Refuge)”
Vision and Mission
The Vision of Sai Ashraya is to find a permanent solution to end child/youth homelessness in our community. We focus primarily on therapeutic/trauma-informed care, education, health and nurturing the mind-body and soul. We do partner with foundations like “Rural Shores” (www.ruralshores.com) for job training and placements which will the homeless children and youth to sustain themselves and their family. This model/solution will then be replicated in other cities and states of USA.
SAI Ashraya Target Services:
24x7 Therapeutic care
Mental Health program
Medical, Dental, Vision & other Health Care services
Assistance with education
Educating on Life-skills, Human values and Nutrition, Healthy living
Coordinate with Foster Family Agencies
Partner with various foundations such as Rural Shores
who offer job training and placements thus creating a sustainable solution.
We went into deep introspection when Bhagawan spoke about homeless kids as we never see kids on streets whenever we do service in bay area. According to National Survey, around 50% of homeless population are children & youth, majority of them are girls.
We split ourselves into different groups and started going to different parks, creeks in San Jose area with the sole aim of finding out who/where these kids were. We spent more time speaking to homeless people inquiring where we can find kids and how they survived on streets. We also read several journals, homeless census information to understand why/when/how a person becomes homeless. All our research slowly unearthed a lot of information we didn't know before. We understood how big a problem this is. We started visiting and serving at many shelters just to understand the difficulties and cultural differences that a homeless person endures.
We were told many real-life stories where these kids were lured out of their homes and pushed into human trafficking. Most of them are left on streets when they get pregnant or when they get sexually transmitted diseases. Since these children have undergone different kinds of abuses, most of them do not trust anyone. They have lost faith in the whole society. They see everyone as human predators, someone who is going to take advantage of them. Due to these physiological emotions, they don’t interact or speak to anyone.
Interestingly, we came across Bill Wilson Center (serves homeless and needy children) based in San Jose, we took the first step and could see Bhagawan’s plan laying ahead for us. Bill Wilson Center helped us understand more about the homeless culture and how a shelter operates in general. We also got the opportunity to attend an 8-hour training provided by Bill Wilson Center to educate ourselves on how to interact with children who have emotional/behavioral problems. They taught us various techniques by which we can identify the boundaries. From June to September, we were out on the streets every Saturday from morning to noon speaking to several people who were homeless in the past, trying to collect as much as information possible.
We had to undergo a 40-hour mandatory training (Group Home Administrator) followed by a state level certification exam as the Homeless shelters, especially for children, are highly regulated in America. By Bhagawan’s grace, all of us passed the examination and got the certification done! We are attending another 12-hour training to become a therapeutic care shelter (Short-Term Residential Therapeutic Program). California state expects the licensee/Applicant to submit the plan of operation and program statement with the application. (i.e.) Plan of operation & program statement will tell the State how we are going to operate the shelter on a daily basis. For ex: what food kids will eat, how we will help them with studies, how we will help with their homework, which school they will be going to, how we will train them and help them with job etc. We are now in the process of documenting our plan of operation & program statement for the shelter.
Apart from the different trainings, we also wanted to expand and identify other potential NGO and individuals whom we can partner with in future. As part of community outreach, we had an awareness booth at the Independence Day Concert (Kunal Ganjawala) at Bay Area. A lot of people were happy to know that something of this magnitude is happening at our own backyard. The Mayor of Fremont City who was the chief guest of the event was visibly moved knowing our mission and knowing that half of us were immigrants. He promised to offer any support that we might need in our endeavor. We had a similar awareness booth in Garba which was attended by close to 2000 people. We were in fact surrounded by youths asking us how they can offer their support. We also participated in Sevathon (a marathon event for charity) and spoke to like-minded NGOs with whom we can partner in future.
The divine command is to find a permanent solution to homelessness, the internal yearning is to stop the crying of young hearts from seeing another day go by in corrupted, non-ethical and violent living conditions at NO fault of their own.