Mercy House - How They're Changing Lives of Homeless Southern California Residents

men loading a van with merino wool clothing for a donation

Homelessness is an epidemic that has been present in America for decades. Every day, people struggle to obtain the basic necessities of life that many of us often take for granted. Rather than allowing residents of Southern California to remain homeless and have to fight to make it through each day, Mercy House has developed a complex network of facilities and services that help individuals in the area. From providing long-term housing solutions and ongoing support to shelters that offer essential care during emergencies, Mercy House is making a huge impact on the homeless population.

At Meriwool, we strive to make an impact in our community in valuable ways. It’s long been a desire for us to donate clothing, however, many facilities in the area sell garments to the homeless community rather than giving them away at no charge. Finding Mercy House was the perfect answer to our long-standing passion to help others. In the month of August, we donated 454 pieces of merino wool clothing to their organization. Let’s learn a bit more about Mercy House and really gain a deep perspective on just how much good they’re doing in Southern California communities.

Comprehensive Assistance

Mercy House Organization was founded in the late 1980s as a way to assist Southern California residents who have fallen into the cycle of homelessness. Initially, the group focused solely on providing safe, clean housing to residents in Santa Ana, yet as time went on, it was clear that more resources were badly needed. Today, Mercy House offers assistance to adult men and women, families, and mothers with children. Individuals living with HIV/AIDS, physical or mental disabilities, or those who are overcoming substance addictions are also served. Mercy House doesn’t simply provide a roof over someone’s head — instead, their goal is to support each person mentally, physically, and spiritually. Individuals who come to Mercy House for help will find that their dignity will be bolstered, their self-confidence can thrive, and they will be provided the tools necessary to forge a new path for themselves economically. Some might say, as the adage goes, that rather than giving a man a fish, Mercy House is teaching people how to fish for themselves.

Where It All Started

While the Mercy House Organization currently operates a network of facilities across Southern California, its beginnings were incredibly humble. Born and raised in Anaheim, Father Jerome T. Karcher discovered that serving others was his true calling in life. After spending immense amounts of time and dedication to further his studies in psychology, philosophy, and theology, he was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1983. Several years later, he gathered a small group of close friends with the goal of helping homeless individuals in the area. Named Mercy House to reflect his intentions of hospitality and a welcoming place for all, Father Karcher operated this new organization backed by several board members. These friends provided the legal, financial, and practical expertise to help launch Mercy House into a truly impactful organization. In 1990, Father Karcher rented a home in Santa Ana and utilized it as a transitional home for men who were employable yet lacked a stable living situation. After seeing so much success, he expanded the operation to include additional services for those living with HIV/AIDS.

The Current State Of Affairs

Father Karcher likely never realized just how incredible Mercy House would become, as one home in Santa Ana started the trajectory for the organization’s present-day reach. The group operates 12 residences across Southern California that work to end the cycle of homelessness by providing individuals with a safe place to live while they grow their independence and improve family stability. An additional 10 emergency shelters are also available for those who need immediate assistance with services including showers, warm meals, and resource referrals. Mercy House also prides itself on these supplemental services: 

  • Their residential services program operates throughout Southern California and parts of Arizona to assist individuals in securing low-income housing. Rather than achieving this goal and simply moving on, Mercy House maintains continued interaction with residents and provides support as needed to ensure residents meet their personal goals including promoting the development of hobbies, interests, and higher education.
  • Permanent housing can sometimes be challenging to find for adults with disabilities, so Mercy House has dedicated a large portion of their efforts to helping these chronically homeless individuals find a place they can call home. In conjunction with a case manager, adults and families in Southern California will be able to live a more productive life and have access to resources including healthcare and employment assistance.
  • Ending the cycle of homelessness is a multifaceted task, and members of the Mercy House team frequently visit South Orange County citizens who are living on the streets or in parks. These outreach efforts are often the foundational interactions that help homeless individuals to transition to more permanent living situations. Mercy House’s outreach services include ID vouchers, transportation assistance, and more.
  • When a homeless individual has an urgent need, Mercy House is there with an access center located in Ontario. Here, adults can utilize a variety of services including showers, storage lockers, laundry facilities, bus passes, meal programs, and more. Housing referrals are also available to help transition homeless residents into more permanent living situations.

What’s On The Horizon?

The impact that Mercy House has had in Southern California is truly remarkable, but Father Karcher and the rest of the team have even more they’d like to accomplish. Funding passed by the California Strategic Growth Council is allowing Mercy House to develop additional housing structures within Orange County. Over $25 million has been awarded, with $15 million solely dedicated to the creation of a low-income housing complex. A flex space along with a community room will allow Mercy House to provide continued support to residents there. 2020 has also seen the expansion of Mercy House’s shelter operations with two new locations in Southern California. Buena Park Navigation Center can host up to 149 individuals, though is currently running at a lower capacity due to coronavirus restrictions. A smaller facility in Los Angeles County, New Hope Emergency Shelter, can help up to 50 adults.

How You Can Get Involved

The efforts of Mercy House to help end the cycle of homelessness are truly astounding and the organization can always use help from volunteers in Southern California. If you’re interested in working with Mercy House, here are some of the ways you can work to make a difference:

  • Meal donation at one of several emergency shelter sites. Individuals can bring prepared food that follows specific safety guidelines as well as stay to help serve meals to others. Please note that background checks may be required for those who wish to stay on-site during meal times and all food must be prepared by individuals with valid food handler’s cards.
  • Mercy House knows firsthand that partnerships with other groups and organizations can help to further end the cycle of homelessness. If you’re interested in volunteering and are part of a club, group, or simply want to help on your own, contact the Mercy House Volunteer Team. You’ll be able to discuss your voluntee
  • r experience as well as specific areas of interest and will be matched up with an assignment that fits your schedule.
  • Essential items are always in high demand within homeless communities, and Mercy House welcomes donations of hygiene items, new clothes, home essentials, and more. You can email to set up a time to drop off items and learn more about the items that are needed.
  • College students can partner with Mercy House to complete an unpaid internship for class credit. Any individual who is currently enrolled in an accredited college or university can email with a cover letter and resume, the internship of interest, availability, and the semester for which they’re applying. Students who want first-hand experience related to their field of study are encouraged to apply.
meriwool layers crew with the mercy house after a merino wool donation to the homeless

An Attitude Of Gratitude

The team at Mercy House is truly phenomenal and at Meriwool, we’re so thankful that we’ve been given the opportunity to contribute to their efforts. The homelessness pandemic is one that isn’t solved overnight but instead is changed through the amazing actions of organizations like Mercy House. Donating clothing like merino wool base layers and socks to their group is just one of many steps we plan to take to empower homeless individuals and promote a transition to a stable and fulfilling life for these Southern California residents. It’s our hope that this information has motivated our followers, even if it’s in a small way, to contribute to organizations in your area that work to help those who are struggling with homelessness. While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly placed restrictions on the ability to help others in person, we know that every little bit of time and effort goes a long way. To all of our readers — stay safe and healthy and know that you too can make a difference in stopping the cycle of homelessness in your area!