Desert Manna in Action
video by Natasha Mackenzie
Twenty-four years ago, the first homeless shelter opened in
San Bemardino County and was funded by the 1987 Federal McKinney Act. The shelter, Desert Manna was named to reflect the biblical story of manna in the desert providing substance to the hungry. The shelter and a small sack lunch program provided a three-day emergency bed and lunch program for homeless, transient men traveling through Barstow in search of employment.
Today, that small shelter is now a center of services for homeless and low-income men, women, and children - both transient and local residents of the greater Barstow, California area.
The communities served by Desert Manna include Barstow, Lenwood, Newberry Springs, Daggett, Yermo and Hinkley and are among the poorest communities of San Bernardino County. Almost 70% of the students in the Barstow Unified School District are eligible for free or reduced cost rneals. Approximately 43% of the residents of Barstow receive food stamps, Medi-Cal benefits, and/or participate in the CalWorks program for low-income families. In December 2014, the unemployment rate for the City of Barstow was 13,5%. During the same period, the State
unemployment rate was 9.7% and the National unemployment rate was 7.8%, The Barstow area has a high rate of teenage pregnancy coupled with the fact that teenage parents are at a high risk of low-income living conditions.
Low-income households have a high rate of food insecurity - not being able to have healthy food in enough quantities to nourish their families adequately. According to the USDA, food insecurity is often responsible for chronic health problems, higher levels of aggression and anxiety and poor performance in school.
Our lower cost housing has also begun to attract fixed-income seniors and disabled individuals to our area which, in turn, increases the number of people in need of food and utilities assistance.
The area has a large stock of older houses and apartment buildings and our residents suffer extreme weather conditions and low temperatures in the winter, also extraordinarily high temperatures in the summer. In addition, during the past 15 years, many out-of town investors have purchased rental housing in the Barstow area. Because these investors are looking for a quick profit margin, they often offer superficial improvements and are not committed to regular maintenance which creates an additional reason why utility costs are high in our area.
We are the junction of three major highways. Not only do we serve our local residents who become homeless, but we also serve a transient population of homeless people traveling through the area. We also have stranded travelers whose cars break down in need of a place to stay until they can continue on their journey.
Shelter Supervisor: Marla Becerra
Office Staff Coordinator: Ambrosia Pease
BOARD OF DIRECTORS:
President & CEO: Darrin Fikstad
Vice President: Tom Malone
Sec./Treasurer: Carol Ziegler