By Jess Winans
Local nonprofit provides shelter and jobs for homeless, young mothers
There were 42,485 child abuse and neglect reports made to the County of San Diego last year. Those reports represented 79,521 children — and those were just the cases reported.
Founded in 1972, Home Start Inc. is a San Diego nonprofit with a mission statement of preventing and treating child abuse.
Home Start fulfills this mission by addressing conditions it says contribute to abusive or risky situations such as unsafe neighborhoods, lack of affordable housing, poverty, unsafe neighborhoods and unemployment.
Tancredi-Baese was a young girl when she saw some of her peers going down the wrong path and thought they needed positive influences to guide them in the right direction. That was when she decided she would follow a career in social work. After working in the field for 25 years, Tancredi-Baese joined Home Start in 2007 as the CEO.
“Children do even better when you work with their parents,” Home Start CEO Laura A. Tancredi-Baese said. “Our mission has been preventing child abuse and neglect and strengthening families against risk factors using services like education, interaction, early intervention and therapy.”
In 2012, Home Start Inc. was awarded a grant from donor Meg Jacobs of nearly $1.5 million — the largest grant they have received to this date. With the grant, Tancredi-Baese developed the Home Start Maternity Housing Program (MHP) — a social enterprise that provides revenue to Home Start programs. This led to the highlight of Tancredi-Baese’s Home Start career — a thrift boutique in Normal Heights.
“I saw an unmet need for transitioning young mothers who didn’t have a safe or healthy place to live,” Tancredi-Baese said. “About half of the women in the program never graduated high school and don’t have much experience with employment and have all kinds of trauma.”
Women accepted into the program live in one of the three MHP residences in Uptown and work at the thrift boutique as sales associates. One of those women is Normal Heights resident Stacy Stevens.
Six years ago, Stevens was in a foster youth housing program when she attended a conference for foster youth in Sacramento, where she met Tancredi-Baese. Stevens didn’t have any children at the time, but referred a lot of her friends she had met during foster care.
Then Stevens’ circumstances changed.
“I was still in the program and I had found a really good job and was doing really well,” she said. “I started dating a new guy and that went really well. Then all within a month, I got fired from my job, found out my boyfriend was married and found out I was pregnant.”
Shortly after, Stevens found out her housing program was ending.
“All within a month of each other — like boom, boom, boom — things started to fall apart for me,” she continued. “So, the day I found out I was pregnant, I got my referral in to Home Start.”
Stevens was hit by a car, leaving her with physical pain which make it hard for her to work a steady job. She also had a high-risk pregnancy, leaving her unable to work until her son AJ was born.
“I tell myself I had no choice, but the truth is I did have a choice. My choice was to either improve my life so I can be a part of my son’s life and raise him myself, or go down the same road I was going down and have him end up in the foster system,” Stevens said, adding she spent a majority of her life in that system.
Being accepted into the program and placed into housing was a streamlined process for Stevens.
“I was in shock,” she continued. “It wasn’t until I was in the apartment by myself and all of my stuff was there that I realized I had a home again.”
Since being in the program, Stevens said she has benefited from therapy and learned tools on how to manage anger issues stemmed from her experience in the foster care system.
“Growing up, I was always like ‘I’m going to be a teacher, I’m going to be this, I’m going to be that,” Stevens said. “But I think I got to a point where I said, ‘why bother?’ Being in the foster system they always teach you the statistics. They say you’re going to be pregnant before you’re 18, you’re going to drop out of school, you’re going to do this or that and all of these things. It’s atrocious.”
Having spent time in the foster care system and living at a group home, she said she saw her peers go off in different directions, with varying amounts of success. That said, she realizes the damaging effects that negative encouragement can have on youth. Because of this, she sees herself attending college to study social work and help other homeless youth.
In addition to the women involved in the program, volunteers also work at the thrift boutique including Normal Heights resident Ashley Rose — a college instructor and regular customer who began volunteering a few months ago.
“One of the greatest things about volunteering here is getting to know the employees at Home Start and getting to know their stories and hear such different perspectives,” Rose said. “They’re all such wonderful people. It’s really a wonderful organization that exists and it has been a really a great transition from being a customer to getting to know the behind the scenes of what they do.”
Additional programs offered by Home Start include Community Services for Families (CSF), which promotes stable living environments for children and their parents through home-based parent education and case management services; community-based parent education classes; a peer support program for parents involved with Child Welfare Services and connections for families to community resources. Another is the First 5 Steps program, which provides in-home parent education to pregnant women and their families.
Home Start receives its funding from donations, grants and through fundraising efforts such as its annual Hallo-Wine Fall Festival, held every October in recognition of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. An expected 250–300 people will turn out this year for an array of wines, hand-crafted beers and liquors, gourmet hors d’oeuvres, live entertainment, a wine pull, a silent auction, and other festivities.
The 11th Annual Hallo-Wine Fall Festival will be held Saturday, Oct. 20 from 3–6 p.m. at the Burnham House in Bankers Hill, located at 3565 Seventh Ave. Tickets cost $65 and include a $10 Lyft voucher. Sponsorship opportunities are also available.
For more information about the organization and its programs, visit home-start.org.
—Reach Jess Winans at email@example.com.