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Fmr. City Lawmaker Helps Provide A Safe Place For Unhoused People In Martinez At 'Camp Hope'

MARTINEZ (KPIX) - Homeless people in Martinez have had a place to call home during the pandemic thanks to this week's Jefferson Award winner and her volunteers, giving hope to the unhoused. More than a hundred people in need of a home in the city of Martinez have come through Camp Hope.

Ronald Lee Pedro is grateful for the safe waterfront encampment at the John Muir Amphitheater.

"We got food, we got clothing, we got everything we need there," Pedro said.

Noralea Gipner is the driving force behind Camp Hope.

As president and CEO of the Homeless Action Coalition, she led the effort to keep the encampment healthy and safe when the pandemic started.

"My biggest goal was to show the city of Martinez that you could have a whole lot of different homeless people live together and make it work," Gipner said.

Camp Hope residents get free showers, clothes, haircuts and breakfast nearby every Friday. The also get access to life changing medical and psychological services through partnerships with churches, community groups and county agencies.

"One guy who's been blind two years, we were able to get surgery so he can have vision now, we're getting people's teeth fixed," Gipner said.

One of the first things you notice is the camp is clean. That's because the two dozen or so people living there at any given time must obey the rules: Keep the camp clean and orderly, no fighting, no hoarding, do your chores, and attend a weekly meeting.

Barbara Lucero, secretary of the Homeless Action Coalition, says Gipner is like the camp mother.

"I joke that Noralea is a force to be reckoned with. She doesn't take no for an answer ever," Lucero said.

Kevin Smith, who comes for clothes and toiletries, praises Gipner's approach.

"She has heart. I really care about her and she really cares about me," Smith said.

Richard Low feels safe at the camp. He says Gipner is restoring his trust in people.

"That's one of the issues she's trying to straighten out. Have faith in yourself again, have faith in the community," Low said.

So it's not surprising folks take her seriously when she advises them to enroll in programs that offer rehab, detox, and housing.

"It just makes me happy to see people moving on," Gipner said.

So for her leadership in managing Camp Hope for the homeless in Martinez, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Noralea Gipner.

Camp Hope is on city-owned property but state lands has jurisdiction. Gipner expects they'll be asked at some point to dismantle the camp. Her team is looking for a more permanent site.

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