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    Jeanine Perkins, owner of Jah Cafe in Elk Grove, recently pledged to cook free meals for homeless people on the first and third Mondays of the month starting July 2. She'll rely on volunteers to help out – much as other nonprofits and church groups have done since the recession sent Elk Grove's foreclosure rate spiraling upward.


    Jeanine Perkins, owner of Jah Cafe in Elk Grove

Many hands contribute to ease plight of Elk Grove's homeless

Published: Friday, Jun. 22, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 26, 2012 - 10:05 am

Built as a middle-class boomtown, Elk Grove has seen poverty and homelessness grow since the recession turned it into one of the region's foreclosure hot spots.

The local food bank is serving more meals to people needing assistance. A former food bank volunteer spearheaded the creation of a group to help mentor the homeless in Elk Grove and provide services such as dental care. And the city is in the process of creating a transitional housing shelter.

In addition, one local restaurant owner has announced that, starting July 2, she will serve free meals to the homeless twice a month at her Elk Grove cafe.

"Elk Grove is considered a middle-class suburban community in many people's eyes, which is not the case any longer," said Marie Jachino, the director of the Elk Grove Food Bank. She said the homeless have become more visible in the city. "You're seeing them more on the streets."

Jachino said the number of people in need seemed to jump in 2010, more than two years after the recession began. The food bank provided 135 meals in October 2010. By the following month, that number had jumped to 1,044.

According to census data, the percentage of people living in poverty in Elk Grove nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, from 5.2 percent to 10.3 percent.

"About two years ago I started noticing a dramatic uptick in the number of homeless people," said Debbie Schoeneshoefer, who volunteered at the food bank at the time. She is now one of the directors of People Assisting the Homeless, or PATH, a group established in the spring of 2010.

PATH pairs homeless people in Elk Grove with mentors in the community who help them return to the workforce, in addition to providing them with necessities such as showers and toiletries.

Schoeneshoefer said that during the housing boom, Elk Grove was a magnet for investors who bought homes to rent out. After the stock and real estate markets crashed, many of these owners lost their homes to foreclosure. In some cases, their tenants were left with nowhere to live.

In the past five years, about one in every five homes in Elk Grove went into foreclosure, according to data from Schoeneschoefer estimated that there are now between 150 and 200 homeless people in the city.

PATH is part of Sacramento Self Help Housing, a nonprofit organization that provides transitional housing throughout the Sacramento area. The city of Elk Grove will give Sacramento Self Help Housing $25,000 in the coming fiscal year. Also, the city is purchasing a house for $240,000 to serve as a transitional home for the homeless. Sacramento Self Help Housing will manage the house.

Church groups have been among those responding to the needs of Elk Grove's growing homeless population, as they have elsewhere in the Sacramento region. City Councilman Gary Davis meets every month with a group of church leaders to coordinate their efforts to help the homeless.

"There are a lot of small-scale efforts by different organizations, including faith-based groups, to reach out and help the homeless," Davis said.

One local restaurant owner and church member, Jeanine Perkins, has reacted on a more personal level. She says her Jah Cafe, which she opened in November, will offer free meals to the homeless on the first and third Mondays of every month, beginning July 2.

"It's always been a passion for me to feed people and to help people," Perkins said.

" 'Jah' means God. That's where my life is based in, almighty God, and this is what he wants me to do," she said.

Jah Cafe, 2475 Elk Grove Blvd., is normally open from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Mondays, but on July 2, Perkins will open the cafe to the homeless from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. She will staff the restaurant with volunteers during those hours.

Perkins attends the Showers of Blessings Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal church on 48th Avenue in Sacramento.

Darnell Thomas, the pastor at Showers of Blessings, said that in feeding her community, Perkins had found her life's work. "That's her ministry," he said.

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