By Elizabeth Kirwin
Gregory Torrence, also known as ‘Buck,’ is familiar with working with the homeless population. While working at Mission of Love Charities (MOLC) as a Case Manager, he also works as a Community Health Worker for Sharing Love and Kindness Health Services (SLK) a collaborating partner of MOLC. “I go right into the Lion’s Den,” says Torrence, who finds HIV positive individuals at the liquor stores in the area, congregating and injecting drugs out back. He is there to perform HIV testing, but uses a grab bag of food or a gift card to Subway to convince people to test. And, they do! “There’s always a tactic,” says Torrence. HIV Positive individuals are helped immediately with health care and food. They are given transportation to the Aids Health Foundation, where they receive what they need.
Torrence fell in love with MOLC in January 2022, after visiting the Mission to perform HIV testing. He accepted a part-time position from the CEO, Deb Martinez, and joined the team.
The Wall is a group of homeless individuals who have been meeting at MOLC since 2020. Torrence has been an active listener with the group. He has assisted six in this group to get into drug and alcohol treatment programs in the last three months. Today, Torrence accompanied the sixth member of The Wall into a six-month substance abuse program. Participants in The Wall were given a sign for their group and many were joyful about this seemingly small form of recognition. “We took pictures in front of the sign,” recalled Torrence. “It’s a nicely done sign and they love it,” he said. Torrence estimates that out of 26 participants in The Wall, 95% have substance abuse problems.
As part of his day-to-day job, he assists homeless individuals in finding transitional housing. If they are re-entering society after a period of incarceration he and MOLC can help steer them in the right direction. “With our older population, I help them get Social Security, Disability or Veteran’s benefits,” said Torrence. “If they qualify for a program, I help them with paperwork,” added Torrence. From there, more programs such as SNAP and the food pantry come into play.
“We start with their stomachs,” says Torrence. “If you are hungry, you cannot think straight, so we solve that problem first,” he noted. The MOLC Food Pantry is open from Monday through Friday and Monday through Thursday during the summer months. On the menu could be anything from cocktail shrimp from Costco or macaroni and cheese dinner or a lunch sandwich from Starbucks. There’s a wide variety of food donated by local partners to the Food Pantry, so each day there are different items stocking the shelves.
In addition to providing much needed food to people with food insecurity, his job as Case Manager at MOLC entails putting people in touch with resources such as: mental health, dental health, SNAP (food stamps) and housing assistance. “There’s a small pool of money for rental deposits and rental assistance,” said Torrence. “To qualify for this an individual must have a job to make housing sustainable,” he observed. Many in Torrence’s caseload will opt for transitional housing first, then work their way up to rental units after finding job training that leads to work. MOLC assists with employment readiness programs, too.
“My number one focus is to provide people with resources,” says Torrence. Many of the men and women who come to MOLC are homeless. It’s Torrence’s job to help get them off of the streets and into transitional housing so they can rest and recuperate their lives. Life on the streets takes a huge toll. “If they desire a change and want help finding a job, MOLC can also assist with this,” said Torrence.
Torrence says he has changed since first starting with MOLC in January. “This job has opened my eyes to what’s really going on. There are folks in dire need of services and MOLC reaches them,” commented Torrence. Before this job, Torrence says he was a listen first, then respond, kind of man. “Now I take a minute to get to know a person,” he observed. “You never know what’s going on with people. I have learned not to assume anything. I slow down and listen without trying to answer right away,” Torrence said.
Whether it’s connecting homeless people with resources they had no idea about, or getting members of The Wall into a substance abuse program, Torrence is well-prepared for his role as a Case Manager at MOLC. “A fist bump could stop someone from jumping off a bridge,” said Torrence. One thing is certain. Change does not always happen right away. “I am open and more sympathetic now,” he said. “It’s a process to bring about change in a homeless person’s life, but with patience, it can happen,” he added optimistically.