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Homeless target of Sociology prof’s latest focus

Staff Writer

Homeless target of Sociology prof’s latest focus It all started with Downtown Mary. A fixture in the downtown area for years, most remember her as a quiet, old homeless woman dressed in layers of dirty brown clothing, usually standing on F Street. Her stooped posture made her appear withdrawn as she dipped water from the gutters using paper cups to tend the potted plants along the streets. Her death last year was mourned locally and nationally.

Sociology faculty member Russell Travis was one of many touched by Mary's plight, and she was the catalyst for the formation of his non-profit organization, Homeless Quarters. "I think this country is ready -- it certainly wants to put an end to homelessness, somehow," he said. Homeless Quarters works on the theory "if 1/4 of the population dropped a quarter a day we could put a huge dent into homelessness," he said. Similarly, if a quarter of Kern County's population, approximately 166,000 people, gave a quarter each day for a year, the amount donated would exceed $14 million. With this in mind, eight months ago Travis, armed with a plastic bank he designed in the shape of a house, began approaching local businesses. And he has placed roughly 25 of the 250 banks he had made. Roy Lopez, manager of Young's Market on Brundage Lane, was more than happy to help out when Travis approached him with a bank. "We told him no problem, if there is any way we can help, we will," he said.

Echoing their support, Linda Ross, store manager for Russo's Books at the Marketplace, said, "People are actually coming in and looking for the banks." Travis has recently placed additional banks with Kern Trophy, Smith's Bakeries and Niagara Carwash. Homeless Quarters’ primary focus will be on providing first and last month’s rent for the "near homeless." These are people who may be working, but not making enough to accumulate the amount needed to move into a place of their own. Roughly 39 percent of this group are families with children. Travis is partnering with The Bakersfield Homeless Center and Kern County Housing Authority to locate recipients for the funding. "The filtering devices are already out there," he said. Especially qualified for this challenge, Travis has studied and taught about the homeless for years in his courses at CSUB. His resumé is peppered with past experience in the corporate world, yet he has a sense of empathy he speculates may have come from his childhood in Long Island, N.Y. "My mother used to take me on the train from Long Island to New York City, and we would go to the Bowery - Skid Row," he said. The Bowery is well known for providing shelter for the homeless. "I guess she wanted me to feel a little humility."

In addition to his house-shaped banks, Travis is planning other fund raisers to increase Homeless Quarters’ coffers. In February he’s holding a T-shirt sale in front of Russo's Bookstore at the Marketplace. All T-shirts will be $5, and all the money will go directly to Homeless Quarters. Travis is interested in organizing a "Students United Against Homelessness in Kern County," as well as other fund-raising professional sub-groups. He’s hoping student volunteers will step up to assist with the upcoming T-shirt sale. Citing his program as a "mass roots effort," he sees Kern Country as a pilot program for a movement that eventually he would like to go national. "After Kern County, Fresno. Then San Francisco or LA," he said. He anticipates the first distribution of funds will be within three months, and all of the banks will be placed by then. "It’s not something I'm going to accept as a natural, inevitable part of our landscape. That's sort of the mind set we've had," Travis said. And judging by her interest in plants, tending the landscape might have been exactly what Downtown Mary would have wanted. Interested students may contact Travis at rtravis@csub.edu or consult www.homelessquarters.org.

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