The Westside Shelter & Hunger Coalition (WSHC) will hold its 11th annual Success Breakfast on Friday, October 6, at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, where it will honor 20 formerly homeless individuals who have been assisted by one or more of the 30 member organizations that make up the Coalition.
Among the honorees is Scott Brutzman, nominated by Step Up on Second, the Coalition member that was instrumental in assisting him on his way to success.
WSHC will also be giving community support honors to 12 businesses for their contributions in assisting the homeless achieve success. These honorees, like the individuals, were all nominated by members of the Coalition, a group of public service nonprofits, church organizations and government agencies, which includes the City of Santa Monica and several local institutions.
One of this year’s success stories is Scott Brutzman. He ran a Westside insurance business with 16 employees, owned a house on 12th St. between Montana Ave. and San Vicente Blvd. and saw his two children graduate from Santa Monica High School. “I was living in Santa Monica with my family, and while I saw the homeless on the streets, it never once crossed my mind that it would ever be me,” he says now.
By 2005, he had been living out of his car for over 12 months and was without income. After years of trying to cope with running a business and a stressful personal life, Brutzman’s situation deteriorated. He had been living with symptoms of depression for several years with little professional, social or familial support, when “the depression got so bad I couldn’t work” in December 2002. This was five months after his brother committed suicide and four months before his daughter took her life. He lost the house, his homelessness added to his depression, and he finally walked into Step Up on Second on the second anniversary of his daughter’s death, stating that he was suicidal himself.
Brutzman knew of Step Up because, as a member of the Santa Monica Rotary Club, in the late 1980’s he heard Step Up founder Susan Dempsey address the Rotarians and describe her vision to help the homeless. The club made a donation. He now says, “ I used to work with and donate to charities, and now I feel like I’ve been on the other side, experiencing homelessness first hand – the negative stigma associated with it is enough to make you feel like giving up.”
Step Up assisted Brutzman by offering support, information, psychiatric services and referrals to other agencies. He is particularly grateful to Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center in Culver City and its SAS program (Survivors After Suicide) for coping with the suicide of a loved one, and to the Center for Healthy Aging on 4th St. in Santa Monica.
While Brutzman was debilitated by depression, Georgina at Step Up dealt with the secretary of his Masonic lodge to obtain a grant from the Masons that provided assistance with rent which helped him eventually to move on to independent living. He attended therapy, worked with case management, received approval for SSI benefits and was able to stabilize his symptoms and focus on his future.
Scott Brutzman has now resumed contact with his family, is rebuilding relationships and has plans to get back in the insurance business. Calling his homeless experience “the most difficult time of my life,” he says, “I have a new perspective on homelessness and the agencies that work to combat the stigma and help people off the streets.”