It all started with a TV commercial. That’s what got Encinitas resident Jim O’Hara interested in serving the homeless. Today, he’s an active volunteer and board member for Father Joe’s Villages. “I had seen Father Joe in his TV commercials for years and always admired him personally,” explains O’Hara. “My family and I served in the Village kitchen on occasion and I knew that I wanted to get more involved but wasn’t sure whom to contact. Right along that time in 2012, a long-time friend, Encinitas resident and Father Joe’s board member Joost Van Adelsberg, said he knew about my interest in charitable causes and asked me if I had any interest in joining the board. I jumped at the chance.”
Father Joe’s Villages was established in 1960 to serve San Diegans experiencing homelessness and poverty. The agency has grown to include a comprehensive campus and scattered-site programs that house more than two-thousand people nightly, from infants to seniors. San Diego continues to have one of the country’s largest homeless populations with one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country. The result is that many people are pushed to life on the streets.
O’Hara owns a global technology and sales consulting firm called GCGnetwork, but still finds the time to devote his energy and time to the plight of the homeless. “I understand that it’s all of our issue in San Diego. And I wanted to bring greater awareness and attention to destigmatize it. I saw it as a personal responsibility for my family and me. Because, despite much progress, there’s still a lot of work to do.”
To raise more of that awareness, O’Hara and his family participate annually in Father Joe’s “A Short Walk Home” fundraiser. The event, to be held this year on Aug. 3, is a two-mile walk along San Diego Bay that starts at Spanish Landing Park at 3900 North Harbor Drive. Since 2017, O’Hara has made it a family affair -- walking with his wife, Ashley, and their four children. But he’s also invited friends, employees, customers, and business associates every year to join in – and this year, the crowd is bigger than ever. “The response always seems to be very enthusiastic when it comes to doing service in the community. People care about San Diego and like to know that they really can make a difference,” he says.
O’Hara says he stepped up his efforts because he believes the problem of homelessness is all about awareness. “Awareness is critical,” he explains, “and A Short Walk Home is a simple yet effective means to bring attention to the plight of the homeless here in San Diego. By getting more people to show up and get involved physically, I hope it gets more of us to take action, make whatever financial contributions we can and help Father Joe’s Villages and the community as a whole continue its work toward solutions. Our kids, family and friends all enjoy supporting Father Joe’s efforts, and also enjoy the walk itself. It’s a great way to start your Saturday.”
From his seat on the board and through his community involvement, O’Hara has seen the homelessness issue evolve through the years and says San Diego has made some noteworthy progress. “We’ve made dramatic progress providing not only food and shelter, but also life-changing services, jobs, housing and even proactively preventing homelessness in many cases, always with respect and compassionate treatment.”
But, he notes, there is still so much more to be done. “The challenges remain significant as funding is always an issue, as are high rents and the severe lack of affordable housing in San Diego. Father Joe’s has been central to keeping the conversation going and progress moving ahead positively and productively.”
O’Hara admits he’s been personally affected by homelessness, which makes the cause all the more important to him. “I do know some people who have been affected over the years, including some old friends currently on the streets. It really demonstrates that it can happen to anyone. There is always a reason for someone becoming homeless. But people do care and there are services available to help.”
To learn more about Father Joe’s Village or to sign up for A Short Walk Home, go to my.neighbor.org. You can register as an individual, start a team or join a team. The event takes place Saturday, Aug. 3, at Spanish Landing Park at 3900 North Harbor Drive. Check-in for the walk begins at 8 a.m. with a welcome ceremony at 8:30 a.m. The event ends at 11 a.m. and free parking is available.