The organization was founded in 1963 in a ramshackle house provided by the Church in Ocean Park and operated by a small neighborhood community center that offered help to families living in poverty. Today, OPCC (formerly Ocean Park Community Center) has grown into a network of 10 shelters and services for homeless and low-income youth, adults and families, battered women and their children and individuals living with serious mental illness and substance addiction. The woman behind the scenes is Debby Maddis, Associate Director of the $6.1 million a year agency.
“Debby directly oversees all of our programs and doesn’t get acknowledged publicly for her work,” says John Maceri, OPCC Executive Director. “She’s a longtime Santa Monica resident, has raised a family here and has a perspective about homelessness that comes from many years of personal and professional experience.”
OPCC provides emergency, transitional and permanent housing, mental and medical health programs, food, counseling, peer support and in-depth preparation for independent living for over 10,000 men, women and children each year. Of these, 98 percent live below poverty level, 85 percent are homeless, 50 percent are mentally ill, 44 percent are minorities, 45 percent are female and 20 percent are under the age of 21.
“We empower people to rebuild their lives by providing a continuum of care in collaboration with member agencies of the Westside Shelter and Hunger Coalition, the faith and business community, the many departments within the City of Santa Monica, the LA County Department of Mental Health and thousands of community and youth volunteers,” says Maddis, who received a Master’s Degree in Public Health from UCLA and served as Consultant and Senior Analyst with the City of Santa Monica Human Services and Housing Divisions for 10 years before arriving at OPCC four years ago.
OPCC has one of the most successful supportive housing programs in the nation with over a 90 percent success rate among the graduates of their transitional housing programs. “Sandy lived on the 3rd Street Promenade for many years with untreated mental illness and spoke to no one,” recounts Maddis. “Following years of daily engagement with our staff, we were finally successful in helping her access mental health treatment and housing. This past year she graduated from USC with her Bachelor’s degree. “Over 35 percent of OPCC staff started as clients, become volunteers and after a few years become members of the staff.
Maddis is no stranger to helping others to become self-sufficient. Her parents provided their modest home to relatives, friends and others who were in need of respite or a temporary place to stay. “We housed over 15 families anywhere from two weeks to two years,” she says. “Sharing our living space and providing people with a safe place to rebuild their lives. When I came to OPCC, it was just like coming home.”
During the next year, OPCC will work toward the relocation of their programs at Access Center, Daybreak Shelter, Safe Haven and Shwashlock. They are constructing two new facilities that will provide more beds, more showers and lockers, more space for group meetings and consultation rooms and a new medical suite. Their capital campaign, “From Homelessness to Hope: Empowering People to Rebuild Their Lives,” will raise $19.5 million to make this expansion a reality.
“Beyond that we will continue to work with the City and the County to develop more permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals and families to live independently,” says Maddis. “Santa Monicans have a long history of partnering with agencies like OPCC, and the City continues to take a leadership role in working toward regional and national solutions to the problems of poverty and homelessness.”
For more information, call 310.264.6646 or go to www.opcc.net.