LANCASTER – When you hear about Grace Resources, you hear about Steve Baker, and vice versa. The two go hand in hand, and have for 21 years now. The AV Times caught up with Baker recently in his unassuming office, which consists of an old wooden desk, a decidedly downmarket chair, a file cabinet or two and an open door. The door is never shut… always open.
Baker, long considered one of the “father figures” of the Antelope Valley, opened up on a variety of topics, including his early upbringing, a typical day at Grace Resources, and how he handles the stress of it all. Read passages from our conversation below:
Tell us how you got to where you are as the Executive Director of Grace Resources… how growing up, the way you did, prepared you for your role now.
I was born [laughs]. I pretty much grew up here. I moved up here in ’59, and I was in 5th grade and I kinda grew up in the YMCA. It was a little house on Avenue J. I was, of all my friends, the only one with a single mom. I was on the eastside; all my friends were on the westside.
I had the example of an early great dad from one of my friend’s parents who all got to me. They didn’t feel sorry for me, they just loved me. I grew up with their influence. And most of them went to First Baptist. In ’68, I became a Christian. Then I was running camps for the Y in high school, then later ran it for the church. Then I became a junior high youth pastor…
I was in the Navy, but I was home every weekend. So I ran the youth group on Sunday nights. I worked at Soledad Sands Park [today's Thousand Trails in Acton] on Saturdays, Friday nights and part of Sundays.
When I got on the staff of the church, I went to school part time. Azusa Pacific College had an extension here in Lancaster [at Antelope Valley College] where I took ministry classes. I went to Cal Baptist in Riverside and Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego for other ministry classes.
So, I didn’t do the typical thing and go full time. I was working in the Navy and going to school when I wasn’t working… Then I went to San Diego and resigned from that church. Ended up coming home… and worked at Edwards for two years [as an intermediate maintenance overhaul mechanic].
Then they asked me to start this… I took it, and never looked back. So in February of ’91, we found that building on Yucca and opened July 1st of ’91.
The former Lancaster Community Shelter was formerly run by Catholic Charities, but now Grace Resources runs it, and it has a new name – the Inn Between. Tell me about that.
Children are a priority. There are 115 beds, with 12 family units. Men are kept separate from women in every activity – sleeping, eating, bathing, laundering, etc. There’s an AA meeting Monday nights. It’s faith based. We also have a parenting class that happens at a church cater-cornered across the street.
Then we do case management. The minute we get them in, we start to work on an exit strategy…you’ve got 15 days to stay. So when they know they’ve got just 15 days, they begin to get serious about a place to stay.
For the others, they have 15 days to stay, then they street it. Every time they come back they get another acute management meeting. We talk to them, once again, about where they’re gonna be. Where are they going to get a roof over their heads? What can we do to help you do that? And/or get them home somewhere, and/or get them to turn themselves into prison to get rid of their warrants so they can find a job, get their license back, or whatever it is.
I’m a chaplain for the Sheriff’s Department, so I take them over there and help turn themselves in, help them serve a couple days or a week in jail. I’ve volunteered [as a Sheriff's Department Chaplain] for 10 or 12 years. I’m kinda the closest dude, so when something goes down and they need me, they pick me up and say, ‘we need you for a druggie, or such and such, or death row notification…’ whatever.
What kind of people do you see, typically, these days seeking help from Grace Resources? Are these the perennially homeless, newly unemployed, or something else going on?
Too many of them lose their place, and they resigned themselves to the fact they’d better get their stuff together and rent a house, and then rent from somebody who’s losing [their house], or who doesn’t even own it sometimes. Within a couple of months they’re told they have to get out of it in three days. So they’re a mess, and it usually happens right after they get their monthly check or whatever their income is. And they have the whole three and a half or four weeks before they get more money. So that’s – that’s the mess.
We try to stand in the in between – which is the nickname for the shelter (The Inn Between). They come in here, they’re broke. I see them wandering around in the parking lot, embarrassed… they come in here for groceries and we earn their trust and make sure we know what the rest of the story is. And then we do what we can.
How do you handle it all? What’s your typical day like?
Well, if I stressed on everything, I’d be dead! It’s just too much to stress on… I had a 22-year-old mom with a young child [and] two other kids. The two other kids, she doesn’t know where they are. And she stepped in here with no place to stay…
[I] gave her food, gave her a voucher for our thrift store to get her a couple changes of clothes, and bus fare to get to Cal City to stay with her aunt. But, she needs to go to the police and file a complaint against her ex-husband. She walked in here crying and very upset, and left here with a smile.
That took an hour of my time, you know. It’s the discerning of whether people’s needs are real or are they just trying to get what they can get. It’s a very taxing job, sucks the energy right out of your head… Typically, I spend most of my day here, talking to people who are in trouble.
Another young man I’ve been working with for two weeks, he came out here with some friends, and there was a place they were supposed to be able to stay, and it didn’t work out.
He was 23 years old. He had a backpack and his stuff, and his friends kind of dumped him, so he wanted to go back to North Carolina. So I get a discount [fare ticket] of $176.
He goes, ‘wow!’
I say, ‘you get $100 and I’ll get you there.’
He goes, ‘I can’t do that!’
I go, ‘yes you can. You have 15 days to stay at the shelter, and you can earn the $100.’
So he did. He ended up getting a ride up to Tehachapi – he had a friend up there – and spent the night there. The friend gave him the $100, and he got a ride back. He walked in the next morning and gave me the check for $176. I gave him $20 of it back, so he’s going to have some spending money. And he honored my request. He’s back in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he has family.
But you know I just can’t spend $176 every time someone walks in through the door. I really couldn’t spend $176, but I really wanted to get him home.
Where does your support come from? Does anyone come back and tell you, ‘thank you?’
It doesn’t say ‘free food’ anywhere on our building. But the reality is that people who need it find out about it. We could be doing 20,000 people a month, if people out there need it.
Today [Aug. 7], we had two rounds of grocery handouts at 10 and at 1. A bunch of people helping were clients down the road. They say thank you, but they also say thank you by coming back and being a volunteer.
People who support us, say at $10, $15, or $20 a month, a lot of them are people who have been clients over the years. Some of them were clients, got out of that, then helped us, then got in trouble again. Then they became clients again. So some have supported us for years, and have lost their home. They’re in trouble again and are so embarrassed. And I go, ‘wait a minute! If you hadn’t supported us over the years, we wouldn’t be here to take care of you now. It’ll all work out.’
Are you a very gifted director, or are you just blessed with people who want to do a good thing in the Antelope Valley and help the cause of Grace Resources?
I don’t think I’m that extraordinary, except for one thing: I’ve learned early on to get out of God’s way and let him do what he does best. I’m not a very patient person, generally. I love people, and I want this to be successful. And I know it doesn’t work because I’m amazing or a good director or a good administrator. It’s because we trusted God with it. He’s honored that. So, as long as I don’t let my head go big or do things on my own steam, that’s when things get headed south. I love my staff, and I love the people coming in for help, and they all know that. I’m not perfect, I don’t always do it right, but they trust me. I think the biggest thing is building trust with the community.
They know if they give us $10, it’s going to stay right here and be used well…
View video (created last year), explaining the history of how Grace Resources came about.
(David Cox is the publisher of wanderingpilgrimsprogress.blogspot.com.)