"Most people offer shelter and food--we are not that," says Greg Sipe says confidently. He's referring to Karma Camp, a nonprofit founded by Sipe and Sean O'Neill, that deals with the ongoing issue of homelessness and mental illness under what they say is a radically new, and bright light.
While Sipe acknowledges the goodness that comes from soup kitchens and shelters, he and O'Neill want to put something in place that can actually rehabilitate people living on the street, or near to it--and that means food trucks, iPads, and a coming mobile shower.
Instead of just offering food and clothes to the homeless around the county, Karma Camp is launching two distinct programs designed to get them back on their feet. Phase 1, the Interlink Outreach Program (IOP) brings technology to the streets, and provides the use of iPhones and iPads for whoever needs them, with the idea that homeless folks can use them to contact family members, look for job listings, and store important personal documents. The first IOP event was held just last Saturday in Santa Ana's Civic Center. Karma Camp spent $5,000 to buy the devices, and after four hours, and an enormous amount of visitors, each one was left on the table intact.
"There is such a stigma against the homeless, but they're just people" Sipe says, "It's true that some want to be homeless, and they won't do anything to help themselves. But most are here because of circumstances--they're ill, disabled, or have mental issues that keep them from moving on."
"We decided to launch the IOP because it's [technology] something that they really needed but had no access to," Sipe says, and he would know. Karma Camp has taken almost all of its ideas straight from the source. "Orange County has an enormous homeless population," Sipe says, "and so we try to talk to as many as we can to figure out what they really need."
In the middle of Sipe's story about the program, told behind strong and intense eyes, O'Neill brings over Rudy Gonzales Jr. Gonzalez had been pacing back and forth, talking to his daughters, which he hadn't spoken to in years, on an iPhone. He was crying. His daughters and their mother didn't know the depth of his situation--they had no idea that he was homeless, or that he tried to commit suicide several times. Now, Gonzales seems like he's going to be okay. Both Karma Camp founders are elated.
"We're always going to be mobile, because of this," Sipe explains. "We want to go straight to the source, we'll go wherever we're needed." Right now, the Civic Center is an ideal spot because it's been a traditional stomping ground for OC's homeless population for decades.
Karma Camp is a young organization--only a year old. Their earlier events provided food and clothing, but also counseling, as both Sipe and O'Neill have their bachelors in Psychology and are still continuing their education. Between their training and the soft hearts of their volunteers, they try to talk to everyone who visits the events, and find out what they need. This is also the most amazing part of Phase 2.
The Mobilized Outreach Program (MOP) is the IOP on steroids. Karma Camp will have two mobile trailers that they'll bring straight to the homeless. One trailer will have showers, washers, and dryers. The other will have professional, mental health counselors, medical doctors, and--cross your fingers--a dentist. All for free. The MOP requires a huge chunk of money, but will hopefully be in the works before too long.
Sipe believes the key to solving the homeless issue is "just being competent and aware." The reason behind why he started the company, besides all that helping humanity stuff, was "ignorant people," he says. "You go down to Newport Beach and no one there wants to even look at a homeless person--they bus them out of the area. At least they used to have Lions Park in Costa Mesa, but then the city tore down the shelter and kicked them out."
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As the incredibly successful first IOP wraps up, O'Neill begins to break down the canopy with other volunteers, and asks Gonzales if he wants to help. He jumps right in. Karma Camp also sees importance in having the homeless volunteer. Sipe says they're currently planning a beach clean up with just that idea in mind.
As the camp closes up, and people that have been hanging out all day say goodbye, Sipe describes where the name came from. "We have no religious affiliation," Sipe says. "We just believe if you do good things then good things will happen."
Visit karmacamp.org for more information or to join the camp.