Harbor House provides sanctuary for those struggling in Conejo Valley

LUNCH RUSH: Harbor House provides daily lunch meals and snacks at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church for people in need within Thousand Oaks. All food provided is donated, with fresh produce and packaged snack options being handed out.


LUNCH RUSH: Harbor House provides daily lunch meals and snacks at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church for people in need within Thousand Oaks. All food provided is donated, with fresh produce and packaged snack options being handed out.

It’s a Monday night in the parking lot of the Thousand Oaks Lutheran Church Holy Trinity as the non profit organization Harbor House’s volunteer employees unhook table legs and set disposable dining table utensils onto donated napkins and plates. The clock strikes 7 p.m., and homeless and struggling people within the community line up to receive free home cooked meals still steaming hot in their foil containers. From families looking to give their kids a full meal to struggling alcoholics or drug addicts, Monday night meals are just one of the many benefits that Harbor House provides for members in need within Conejo Valley.

Established in 2019, Harbor House prides itself in working one on one with community members in need with their clients being known by name.The help provided for each person is based on their personal needs.

“I believe that homelessness is the human rights issue of our time,” said Executive Director of Harbor House Denise Cortes. “[I] believe our children’s children will read about this issue in their history books, and I want to be able to answer honestly when they ask me, ‘What did you do?’”

People are struggling now more than ever with the financial damages COVID-19 caused, and Harbor House is working to destigmatize the negative assumptions about homeless people by providing housing and economic aid to help people get back on their feet.

“There are systematic issues with the way our society helps people,” said  Harbor House Director of Operations Sheri Groenveld. “We lack mental health care options as well as affordable drug rehabilitations’.”

Between 2019 and 2022, homelessness grew over 7% in California according to Calmatters, and homeless people are often refused economic aid, whether it be bank aid or housing, due to mental health issues like trauma and drug or alcohol addictions.

“Trauma can really impact people’s abilities to function,” said Amy Turk, the Chief Executive Officer of the Downtown Women’s Center in the HealCalifornia podcast. “You could start to hear service providers say, ‘Oh, that person is not compliant. Oh, that person has missed three doctor’s appointments. They’re no longer allowed to come here anymore’. But really they’re dealing with trauma.”

Another main issue Harbor House is trying to combat is the growing youth homelessness with the development of the PI house in Thousand Oaks which is transitional housing for youth exiting the foster care system.

700,000 adolescent minors ages 13 to 17 experience a form of homelessness in the course of a year, and this number is only growing, mainly targeting LGBTQ+ and youth of color, according to the Covenant House article “For LGBTQ Youth, The Risks of Homelessness are Unacceptable.”

A major volunteer program provided by Harbor House is Adopt-a-Family, a large annual event where people get to provide a $50 grocery store gift card along with $25 to toy stores for each child per family during the Christmas season.

“The Adopt a Family program helped over 1,000 children and 400 families in 2021,” said Kari Slattum, a Harbor House volunteer of two years.

Harbor House is a volunteer run organization with at least seven different programs people can volunteer through, and there are now donation options through Zelle, Venmo and the Monthly partner program which automatically donates your money to the program every month.

“[The best way to] donate is through our sign up genius for daily lunches or meals via our website,” said Groenveld. “We also have an Amazon Wishlist.”

There are many small setbacks homeless people face, such as access to fresh clothing or showers. At Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, showers are available every Thursday between 3:30-5:00 p.m. for anybody in need. This also includes a homemade meal provided at the establishment for each guest, according to the  Harbor House “Programs” listing.

There will always be individuals in need within our community, and it is important to combat the issue at hand head on rather than allow struggling people to drown beneath the surface.

“Harbor House is a community,” said Slattum. “[we] work every day to help some of our most vulnerable people in our community.”