Campus: California State University, Bakersfield -- December 2, 2005

Grant to Aid Homeless: CSUMB Program to Facilitate Planning for Soledad Street

Soledad Street in the former Chinatown area of Salinas is the site of vacant lots, abandoned buildings and makeshift shelters for the homeless. It's full of broken glass and broken dreams. The area has been neglected for years, despite the fact that it's located only a few blocks from the National Steinbeck Center, the crown jewel in Salinas' redevelopment efforts.

As the result of a longtime relationship between the Franciscan Workers of Junipero Serra - who run Dorothy's Place Hospitality Center on Soledad Street - and CSUMB's Service Learning program, that may change.

Dorothy's Place provides meals for the poor and the homeless. Begun when its director, Robert Smith, distributed sandwiches from the back of his car more than 20 years ago, it now serves two meals a day to hundreds of guests and has provided service-learning opportunities for CSUMB students for nearly a decade.

When faced with the prospect of losing the lease on Dorothy's, Smith approached the university for help in redeveloping the area, along with the city. The university's Service Learning Institute saw an opportunity.

University faculty and staff members applied for federal grant money to facilitate community planning for lower Soledad Street and set up job training for the homeless there. The grant was funded -- $600,000 over three years was awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The money will be the catalyst for redevelopment in the 20-acre area.

Grant money will pay the salary of a project director who, along with CSUMB service learning students, faculty and staff, will work with social service providers, property owners and business owners to produce a redevelopment plan for the area. The university hopes to have a plan ready to present to the Salinas City Council in two to three years.

"I'm really excited about the possibility of bringing people together in dialogue . . . to connect social service delivery with housing, with retail, with education," said Seth Pollack, director of service learning at the university.

Grant money will be used to teach work skills and develop micro-enterprise business opportunities for the homeless. CSUMB business students will develop income-generating projects; the possibilities include a bicycle repair business and a used clothing store.

As part of the project, university students will construct a 40,000-square-foot garden on city-owned property -- with native plants, flowers and vegetables -- at the corner of Soledad and Lake streets. The garden is intended to beautify the neighborhood and supply food to be served at Dorothy's Place. There's also a plan to develop a business that will sell cut and dried flowers and herbs.

"In the short term - several years - we'll use the space as a garden. Ultimately, it will be a site for housing. The goal of the garden and the job training is to show the property owners in the area that there can be a connection between them and the folks who live there now," said Pollack.

The first order of business is to locate space in the area to house the project's administrative office and computer training classes. Work on the garden and the business plan will start in the spring.

Two events last spring demonstrated the potential the partnership between Dorothy's Place and the university holds:

  • "The Soupline Forum: Imagining a New Neighborhood On and Around Soledad Street," was held on April 29 at the Salinas Buddhist Temple, facilitated by CSUMB faculty members. Salinas Mayor Anna Caballero, Assemblyman Simon Salinas and Rick Slone, a Buddhist priest, made presentations. CSUMB students also presented their ideas for improving the area.


  • A community day of labor was held on April 30, when the street, buildings and vacant lots received a facelift, courtesy of CSUMB students, staff, and faculty, along with community members and the guests of Dorothy's Place. To demonstrate the commitment of CSUMB to continue its partnership with Dorothy's Place, a tree was planted in the courtyard.
Contact: Joan Weiner, (831) 582-3653


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