Last week, I took a bike ride to Downtown Ventura, past City Center Motel on East Thompson Boulevard. When passing the former dilapidatedfleabag motel, I was a bit surprised at what I saw: nice cars parked in the stalls, lights on in the rooms, and a renovation done to the exterior of the building. A handful of people were milling about late in the afternoon that day, but something quite amazing had happened there — something that many people had been concerned, if not upset, about, just as an idea, only a couple of years ago.
The Reporter first caught wind of the story about the Kingdom Center project in 2008, when the pastor of Harbor Community Church in Midtown Ventura wanted to expand the church’s mission to help families who had recently become homeless. Because the Harbor Church had already been operating a soup kitchen to feed dozens of local homeless people, Pastor Sam Galucci saw that the need for help and the possibility of rehabilitation varied. When the economy went on a downward spiral, many once-stable families were left destitute. All that most of them needed was a safe place to stay to get back on their feet — that is when City Center Motel came into the picture.
City Center, which had been boarded up for years, had garnered an infamous, even notorious, reputation from the previous goings-on there, from prostitution to drug dealing to a brutal slaying of a young woman. The building stood as a piece of blight for years, doing nothing good for the neighborhood. Galucci proposed to the property owners a plan to renovate the old motel into a transitional living center, in which all the rooms would be paid for and taken care of through sponsorships by area churches. His plans also included Operation Embrace, a soup kitchen, laundry and showers that would serve the homeless people taken care of by Harbor Church.
Over the last two years since these plans were made public, Gallucci has had an uphill battle, fighting harsh criticisms about both the living center and the soup kitchen. There appeared to be a bout of NIMBYism going on; while the plans seemed great in theory, the realization that more homeless people would be in the area worried nearby residents. But Galucci, the Harbor Church, the motel’s property owners and countless volunteers moved forward, tearing down the old and bringing in the new. What was once an eyesore was being transformed into a place of comfort, warmth and hope.
With, so far, around a dozen rooms completely renovated and furnished with new bunk beds, couches, minifridges, desks, chairs and dressers, all the fears and doubts about what the center would do to the neighborhood have dissipated, at least for me personally. While I never really had any negative feelings about it, what I had been hearing from the neighbors got me thinking. Now, I know I was wrong. If the standards of Operation Embrace meet the same standards of the transitional living center, then there is little to be worried about.
What has happened at the Kingdom Center can only be construed as inspirational. The work and dedication of the volunteers, including that of homeless individuals who are ineligible to take up residence there, go beyond comprehension. This is a labor of love that will make not only those involved better off, but Ventura as a whole.