Word on the Street: Minister Counsels the Homeless in Santa Barbara

Release Date: June 30,2016

By DAVE MASON, NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITE


     
The minister, who's a community liaison officer for the Santa Barbara Police Department, regularly walks up and down State Street counseling those living on the streets.

 

KENNETH SONG/NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS

 
 
Top photo, The Rev. Charles "Chuk" Reed Sr. plays a homeless man's guitar on State Street. Building relationships is a happy outcome of his role, and he said that enables him to get the homeless to follow rules.

 

Bottom photo, The Rev. Reed talks with a homeless man on State Street. He advises the homeless about jobs, shelters and resources for help.

 
 
Top photo, Eddie Rogers, a 71-year-old Navy veteran and former electrician, chats with the Rev. Reed. Mr. Rogers, a formerly homeless man who now lives in a mobile home but still spends time on State Street, joked that the minister is "mean and nasty!" The Rev. Reed laughed.

 

Bottom photo, A formerly homeless man tells the Rev. Reed that he now lives in an apartment operated by the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara.

 
 

June 26, 2016

You can't miss him. The Rev. Charles "Chuk" Reed Sr. is a tall man in a bright yellow polo shirt, khaki pants, shiny black shoes and a black baseball cap. He walks for five or six hours a day, mornings and afternoons, up and down State Street between Victoria Street and the pedestrian bridge by Highway 101.

He greets everyone, absolutely everyone, with "Good morning." He smiles as he talks to shop owners, workers, tourists and the group that he's primarily there to help.

The homeless.

He's there when they need him.

"This man saved my life out here!" said Antonio Mari, a 28-year-old homeless man, speaking over the freeway noise as he hung out in a parking lot near the pedestrian bridge.

"When I first got here, I was addicted to drugs. I talked to Chuk about it, and he told me about the Alano Club (a nonprofit helping addicts)," Mr. Mari, a Santa Maria native, told the News-Press. Mr. Mari said he started going to support groups there and elsewhere and has been sober for two months.

He's among those counseled by the Rev. Reed, a 56-year-old Oxnard resident who sees two or three dozen homeless people a day as a community service liaison for the Santa Barbara Police Department. The liaisons are the ones who patrol streets in a yellow shirt.

Part of his job is to make sure the homeless aren't breaking laws or bothering anyone and to prevent situations from escalating into 9-1-1 calls. Diplomatic but firm, he tells them not to smoke pot or drink, at least not where anyone can see them. He can call the police if situations become difficult.

"He doesn't come off as, 'I have the power and do what I say,' " said Jeremiah Schofield, a young man who has lived on the streets since running away from his Lompoc home at age 10. He was sitting by the stairs to the pedestrian bridge. "He says, 'Don't sit right there (breaking rules) because they (police officers) will write you a ticket.'"

The other part of the Rev. Reed's work is compassion.

He refers the homeless to agencies and shelters, encourages them in their job search, checks on their health, and, if asked, will pray with them.

"On the back of my (business) card, I've got all the places they can go for help," the Rev. Reed said.

He was on State Street when Kristen McCauley needed comfort after her boyfriend was arrested after the couple had a loud argument. Both are homeless, and the couple said the boyfriend was charged falsely with domestic violence.

"He saw me crying. He stopped what he was doing and gave me a hug and prayed for me for five minutes," the 24-year-old Santa Barbara native said as her boyfriend, who spent some time in jail, listened.

The Rev. Reed said he tries to give the homeless hope. "No matter how bad they look, I tell them, 'You look good today.' "

"I honestly feel the Lord prepared me for this," he said.

The Los Angeles native grew up in a middle-class home in Watts and went to Amos Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, where the minister had him teach a Sunday School class during his high school years. The church was impressed with him, ordained him at age 17 and made him the youth minister.

He also worked as a lifeguard and swim team coach at a Los Angeles County pool in L.A., where he prevented trouble with gang members who loitered there through mediation.

After graduating in 1978 from Washington High School in Los Angeles, he studied mechanical engineering and art at Los Angeles Southwest College and Los Angeles Trade Technical College.

He worked on radar design for the Howard Hughes Aircraft Co. before moving to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles in 2006 to serve as pastor at Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. His first Sunday morning there, he walked to nearby Plaza Vera Cruz, a Cota Street park.

"I saw two guys in the corner shooting up," he recalled. "I thought, 'How can I serve the community and help with what's going on less than two golf swings from the church?' I said, 'Lord, show me how to help.' "

He got his answer, but first faced a personal tragedy. In 2010, the Rev. Reed, who's married to Joyce Reed and has an adult daughter, Shalen Denise Williams, and a grandson, took time off from his church to deal with the loss of his son, Charles Reed Jr., who died at age 29 from leukemia.

In 2011, Sgt. Ed Olsen of the Santa Barbara Police Department told the Rev. Reed, "Chuk, you'll be great as a yellow shirt (community service liaison)." Sgt. Olsen knew the minister from the Rev. Reed's work since 2007 as a chaplain for the police department.

The Rev. Reed, who earned a bachelor's degree in theology in 2014 at St. Paul Seminary and Bible Institute in Oxnard and is working on his master's at the same school, said he found the street work more rewarding than standing at a pulpit. He said he left the church after a second stint as pastor there in 2013 after finding traditional churches too confining in his efforts to help the homeless.

"It's about building relationships," said the Rev. Reed, who moved to Oxnard last year. He paused on a recent morning as he spotted a young woman across the street. He knew her. She was homeless.

He walked quickly through the crosswalk and caught up with her. "How are you doing?" he asked her. The homeless woman, Charise Haley, and he chatted.

"He's a good male figure for everybody, especially the street kids," Ms. Haley, 24, said. "He talks to us like we're an adult, a person, not like most people in uniform would do."

Ms. Haley said she's doing OK on the streets. "Every day is a different adventure."

The News-Press watched as the Rev. Reed connected with a group of homeless men by picking up one man's guitar and playing it.

"Chuk starts playing guitar and talking to us," said Joe Cox, a 48-year-old homeless man. "He's awesome. He's always been nice to me."

Owners and managers of several State Street businesses told the News-Press they appreciate how the minister calmly and efficiently resolves problems with the homeless.

"One of the guys was seriously in my face. My heart was pounding, and I was backing up. I was at the door, and he wanted a hug," said Kathy Melcher, 53, interim manager at Francesca's, a boutique. The man had her cornered and clearly was unwillingly to leave without a hug. "He (the Rev. Reed) came right between us. He knew the individual and said, 'You have to go. She's got nothing for you.' " The homeless man left.

Interim Santa Barbara Police Chief John Crombach, 62, has witnessed the Rev. Reed work with the homeless. "Chuk treats them with dignity and respect. He's very compassionate, and he communicates well."

The Rev. Reed said anyone can become homeless; some of them have college degrees. "It could be a family member. How would you want them to be treated? There but for the grace of God, go I."

Most of the homeless on State Street have chosen that life, but they are also victims of mental and physical illnesses, drug and alcohol abuse, financial difficulties and hard luck, the Rev. Reed said. He noted some are veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

During the walks with the minister, several homeless people told the News-Press they're on the streets for reasons varying from abusive parents to high rents in Santa Barbara.

Lee Travis was a therapist before circumstances and health problems led him to the streets. When the Rev. Reed approached him, Mr. Travis was holding a cardboard sign saying, "Hello. Please help. God bless. Thanks, Lee."

Despite chronic, painful sinus issues, Mr. Travis, 61, smiled. He obviously enjoyed talking with passers-by, the Rev. Reed in particular. "He's always very nice and polite and proper," Mr. Travis said. "He shows concern. He's a nice guy."

Along his walk, the Rev. Reed saw some of the success stories among the homeless he has counseled. One man told the minister he just moved into an apartment operated by the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara. Another, a young man who the Rev. Reed said used to spend his days smoking pot, is now working part time at India House, one of several State Street businesses that hire the homeless.

"They just need a hand," the minister said. "It's all about the relationship. It starts with, 'Good morning.' "

email: dmason@newspress.com

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