For the past year, Bodhi Richards has been the manager at two ShelterCare programs, ShelterCare Medical Recuperation (SMR) and Housing, Health and Wellness (HHW). While this position is relatively new to him, he has worked at ShelterCare for 14 years. Bodhi got his start as a relief worker, which allowed him to fill in for staff at nearly all of ShelterCare’s programs. Having worked various positions through the agency, he has an in-depth knowledge of the community, the issue of homelessness and the solutions that work.
We recently had a conversation with Bodhi about his personal story and what drives him to make this community a place where everyone can thrive.
ShelterCare: You recently began sharing your personal story in the community. Would you mind telling us about your journey?
Bodhi Richards: I had an extremely abusive childhood. At the age of 15, I ran away from home to escape the tremendous abuse I was facing. The first three years of being out on my own and taking care of myself were spent in a state of homelessness. I spent most my time with other homeless youth, which led to me dropping out of high school. To survive we occasionally committed petty crimes because we had no employment, no place to live and no structure. I felt outside of society. When I turned 18, I tried to join the Army, but they wouldn’t take me because I didn’t have a high school diploma. I finally found the structure and support I needed when I joined the California Conservation Corps. I was removed from negative influences, I learned how to take care of myself and they got me on track to get my GED. I got a job immediately after exiting this program and have remained employed ever since. I have a lot of permanent physical trauma from my childhood experiences, and I would have a lot of emotional trauma, mental health issues and would possibly still be living in poverty if I hadn’t sought out some help in my young adulthood.
ShelterCare: Why do you feel it is important to share your story?
Bodhi Richards: I began sharing my story in the spirit of advocacy, to help normalize poverty. Sometimes our clients are not in a place to share their stories, but I have a story that in many ways is very similar to theirs so I can be a voice for talking about how necessary and important our work is. I also share my story to show that it is the combination of support and hard work that bring stability to your life. In my experience, I worked my butt off for 25 years to find stability, but I didn't do it alone. I had help, without which I might still be homeless.
Poverty and homelessness takes a long time to recover from. Research shows the longer someone is homeless, the longer it takes to build the structure needed not to live in poverty. I felt like experiencing homelessness in my youth has put me behind in life. I got my GED at 25, I got my first job above minimum wage at 29, I got my degree at 40. So in some ways, I feel like I am always going to be a little bit behind. Part of my recovery is giving back, as it is for a lot of people. I hope that telling the story of how I got out of my bad situation helps others get out of theirs.
ShelterCare: Why do you like working at ShelterCare?
Bodhi Richards: It’s a dream job, I get to help people as my profession. I have never had the opportunity to have more impact on the community. It is my goal to make sure that HHW and SMR are meeting the needs of Lane County. I am not afraid to explore collaborations, new directions or unconventional solutions in order to get people the help they need. We try our best not to turn people away; we always try to find a way to help. This attitude comes from the top, from Executive Director Susan Ban. We are all geared towards helping people not matter what. Sometimes the instinct can be to say this person is too hard to help; that is something that doesn’t happen at ShelterCare. We never say “No”, we say, “How can we help?” And if we can’t help you, we find someone who can. We will call Laurel Hill, Cornerstone Community Housing or St. Vincent de Paul. Having a network of community partners is key when the need is so great.
ShelterCare: What do you want the community to know about homelessness?
Bodhi Richards: That it impacts us all. The truth is that 40 percent of the population of Lane County have experienced poverty and 1 in 5 people are currently living below the poverty line. This means when you are sitting in a room full of people, you are with someone who is currently in or recently lived in poverty. It is your neighbors, coworkers or employees. I was one of these people. The thing I want people to know is that poverty and homelessness isn’t somebody else’s problem. It is not something we can ignore; it is a community problem that we can only solve together.