Just this past April, Tim Houchen was living on the streets of Santa Ana. It wasn’t until May that he was able to gain access to
housing with the help of aid organization Illumination Foundation. For the time in seven years, he had a roof over his head.
Houchen—now on the path to emotional and financial stability—is determined to finish what he had started while homeless: advocating against the criminalization of the homeless and showing other folks they can turn their lives around, too. His new organization, Hope 4 Restoration, focuses on identifying needs of the homeless that, as Houchen refers to it, other aid organizations overlook.
Hope 4 Restoration mirrors Houchen’s experience working with the Civic Center Roundtable—a homelessness rights group run by Santa Ana’s homeless–which he formerly represented at city council meetings and community gatherings. In his time working with this organization, he witnessed the police confiscating people’s personal property and how they would receive tickets because of anti-camping ordinances. It was, in fact, his involvement in fighting for the homeless’ rights that helped him get back on his feet.
“I needed something positive to get me out of homelessness,” Houchen explains. When he realized that changing his mentality was key in his personal success, he decided to focus his new organization on restoring the homeless’ sense of hope (thus, his organization’s name). “I see a lot of homeless people losing hope, and I see how that affects them in the long-run,” he says. “When I was homeless, people would come by and donate things to us but, at the end of the day, we’re still in the situation.”
“Even now that I’m housed,” he continues, “I still face issues that are too much to bear. So I understand and want to find solutions that have worked for me so that it’ll be easier for others. Once you get into housing, there are still more enemies. You have to find a way to keep yourself secure so you don’t become homeless again.”
One way Houchen wants to instill hope for the homeless is by including them in planning his and services. He has been conducting interviews to learn of their needs—the most recent one at the Santa Ana riverbed encampments. “I try to find out what people need,” he says. “A lot of the time they’re not going to come out and tell you. You gotta talk to the people.”
If he can raise enough funds for it, Houchen envisions setting up a mobile resource center with tables and laptops at local encampments. Here, staff members would work with homeless individuals on any legal or social support issues that need to be cleared so they can apply for housing. Assistance will be available for credit repair, tax remediation, applying for public assistance programs such as nutritional assistance program Cal Fresh, job-seeking, and life-skill training.
To advocate against the criminalization of the homeless, Houchen says he’s been preparing documents to present to the Orange County Board of Supervisors and local American Civil Liberties Union branch. “In other parts of the country, you can’t lawfully give someone a camping citation if there’s not a place for them to go. That’s something our county just doesn’t get.”
To learn more about Tim Houchen’s work, visit his website hope4restoration.org.