By Johnny Flores, Jr.
On a typical Sunday, Chris Rockwell travels to Coachella with 48 food bags in his truck. Each bag includes non-perishable food and fruit, lotion, eye drops, soap, aspirin and other daily needs. Rockwell hopes that these items will last the people living underneath the Dillon Bridge in Coachella about a week.
Rockwell is the founder of Helping the Homeless Now, an organization he started three years ago in Idyllwild, a mountain community about 60 miles away from Coachella.
“Our purpose is to show them that someone cares,” says Rockwell. “Many of these people have no one in their lives, no family, and or are on the bottom with nothing. It seems likely that if someone consistently comes around offering help and is willing to spend a few minutes talking with them as people, that they will find this uplifting and help improve their sense of worth.”
One of the reasons Rockwell is drawn to helping the homeless is because they are there – or, more accurately, because they are here.
He says, “Biblically, we should do this type of work and help the poor and needy. We sometimes miss these things because things like this happen slowly over time and finally one day we see it for what it has become. We have a problem here and it’s getting worse and not much is being done to help it.”
According to a Riverside County Department of Public Social Services survey, there were 987 homeless people living in the Coachella Valley in January 2011. The survey counted 89 homeless individuals in Coachella and 10 in Mecca. The homeless count for the rest of the Eastern Coachella Valley unincorporated communities was not available on County’s website.
According to Rockwell, the causes of homelessness in the Coachella Valley include substance abuse, mental illness, loss of jobs and lack of jobs. The people that are homeless are mainly middle-aged men, mostly Caucasian and Hispanic. The ratio is 4:1 men to women. Rockwell says there is a great cross-section of people with different education levels, talents, skills, abilities, disabilities, illnesses, and handicaps.
Rockwell receives his inspiration and motivation from his wife. “She helps me,” he says. “I’m interested and concerned about these people. Many of them I consider friends, some like family.”
He, in turn, inspires and motivates others with these simple words, “A person doesn’t need anything or be qualified to help, just desire.”
Besides the bags with food and toiletries, Rockwell also hands out clothes, shoes, tents, and bicycles to those under the Dillon Bridge. He receives some of these items from Bargains Thrift Store in Palm Desert.
If you would like more information about Helping the Homeless Now, or would like to help, please visit helpingthehomelessnow.com.