A Vietnam veteran is dedicating himself to helping people overcome homelessness and addiction.
After returning from the Vietnam War, Benjamin Shuler struggled with addiction and ended up on the streets of Gardena. Shuler was homeless for five years before he received the help he needed and changed the course of his life. His brother who struggled with alcohol addiction and experienced homelessness was not as fortunate. One night, while blackout drunk, he froze to death on the street, and it has haunted Shuler ever since.
“Someone helped me in 1983 and I want to pass that forward,” Shuler said. “My dad and my brother didn’t get help and they died.”
Shuler and his wife Glenda moved to Moreno Valley in 1995 to give their daughters better opportunities. Realizing they could help others, the couple held 12-step program meetings from the garage. They discovered they had a passion for community service, especially helping those who had hit rock bottom and couldn’t find support.
Shuler heard a calling to create a nonprofit organization. In 2013 Hole in Wall, Inc. (THIW) was founded as a 501(c)3 organization in Moreno Valley. Renting a small office on Postal Avenue in Moreno Valley, the Shulers built a board of like-minded individuals in their 12-step and all pooled their money to pay the rent. The organization opened to provide a place for 12-step meetings and became a drop-in center for the local homeless population.
“My vision was to allow homeless people to come in off the street however they were, to be able to come in without any questions asked do an intake, and then help them,” Shuler said. “There is no appointment necessary, and we don’t care how you come in as long as you are respectful.”
When those experiencing homelessness arrive, they are asked to sign in and then given a cup of coffee, a bottle of water and lunch on the spot. While this may be simple fare such as a turkey sandwich and a bag of chips, it gives them one less struggle, Shuler said. The organization does not try to help those who do not want assistance but hopes that by winning their trust, they will ultimately ask.
The organization offers them a place to get their mail and listens to how they are doing. No one is ever turned away and THIW strives to have them leave with more than they had when they arrived. This may be no more than a cup of coffee, a mask, hand sanitizer or socks, but the goal is to get them off the street. Clients who are willing are provided with case management and resources to help with substance abuse and help them become contributing members of society again.
This can take a long time, but Shuler is committed. One of THIW’s clients, Jessica Martinez was on the street for six years and struggling with drugs. The organization offered a safe place to drop in and chat. Eventually, her family was able to get her into treatment. When Martinez finished treatment, she stopped by to thank the staff.
“Now she has a job and is back with her family and when she smiles and it’s a bright moment,” Shuler said. “Whenever I have a rough spot, I think of her. She’s sober and she’s off the street. I couldn’t help my brother, but I could help her.”
Recently, THIW received Community Impact Grant from the Inland Empire Community Foundation. Shuler is on a fixed income and struggles to find funding for his organization. The grant has helped pay for a part-time secretary and the organization’s operations manager. Ultimately, THIW hopes to raise the funds to open a 100-bed shelter for men and women with wrap-around services.
“They aren’t bad people,” Shuler said. “They just have a drug problem or a mental health issue. My vision is to help one person a day get off the street.”
This article originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, October 2022
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