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In The Pipeline: A home for the holidays

December 14, 2011|By Chris Epting
  • Aryana Gonzales, left, with her mom Rosie Littlejohn, right.
Aryana Gonzales, left, with her mom Rosie Littlejohn,… (HB Independent )

Billy O'Connell knows how to get things done. Maybe it's the tough Irish accent, or the fact that for years he was an L.A. County sheriff. Whatever it is, when you talk to him, you understand he's a no-nonsense, take-charge sort of guy. So years ago, when he got the calling after helping out at a Santa Ana soup kitchen, it was easy to predict he'd soon be making a difference.

Noticing the unspeakably rough conditions that many young moms and children had to endure right here in Orange County, in 1998, O'Connell founded Colette's Children's Home with the stated mission "to provide homeless single women and homeless mothers with children a safe home and nurturing environment where they obtain compassionate support and services needed to achieve self-sufficiency."

Now, 13 years later, Colette's (named for O'Connell's daughter) maintains eight transitional housing shelters (spread throughout Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Anaheim and Placentia) and three permanent affordable housing projects (located in Huntington Beach and Anaheim).

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To date, Colette's has helped shelter and care for more than 2,100 women and children. And to hear O'Connell, he is just getting started.

"Last year, we had over 4,000 requests," he told me. "We live in such a rich county, yes, but our homeless numbers are up there with some of the worst cities in the country. We've got to help get these homeless women and children off the streets, and we have a long way to go."

Colette's is one of the few homes that serve homeless women who suffer from a variety of issues such as economic hardship, domestic violence, mental health issues and substance abuse. Their goals for each person are to:

•Remove issues causing displacement into homelessness

•Build character that supports sound decision-making

•Teach relevant knowledge and life skills

•Transition families into stable, permanent housing

During the holidays, the stakes are obviously higher as the organization also looks to make sure that homeless children are able to enjoy at least some warmth, spirit and gifts of the season.

It's also a time when many of the mothers are able to reflect on how much Colette's has done for them.

Rosie Littlejohn, 36, spoke with me at length about how Colette's "saved" her life.

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