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Noe Estrella and her service dog Malu usually live in a tent at Port Hueneme Beach but had a warm bed Jan. 5, thanks to the City of Oxnard’s foul weather shelter at the Armory. (Photo by Chris Frost)
Thursday, January 10, 2019

By Chris Frost



Oxnard— The rains arrived in Oxnard Jan. 5, and with such an event, the city activated a foul weather shelter at the Oxnard Armory, so its homeless population would be safe warm and dry throughout the storm.

Consumers received a warm meal, counseling, medical attention if needed and a place to relax for the evening and even enjoy television at the facility.

Site Coordinator Karl Lawson had a busy evening and departed the armory Sunday morning at about 9 a.m. so he could take someone to the hospital.

Noe Estrella and her service dog Malu came to the shelter via advocacy group “Community Action Outreach” and said the armory is the only shelter they’ve had for the last six months.

“We are extremely grateful, and we don’t want to leave, so we are milking every minute,” she said. “We have 40 minutes left.”

She said her evening was wonderful and the city offered to support individuals who were assault victims, and there was plenty of community action outreach for people once the storm passed. The rain brought a lot of people together to compare notes about horrible situations, so they don’t repeat the same problems.

“You have a group of people who are advocating for you and trying to help,” she said.  “Community Action Outreach is a mecca for us to have an address, and we can go and get food. I’ve been there during some severe PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) moments where all I can see is the color red and blind rage.”

The group never triggers her rage, she said, and focuses on care while letting them have their personal space.

“The food (at the shelter) was awesome,” she said. “Homemade food is something we don’t get very often (and) is a blessing. People who walk the walk of Jesus, and I am not religious at all, to represent that way, you can’t help but feel there is some spirit of divineness in human nature.”

Estrella lives in a tent in Port Hueneme and has been out of shelter since June 30, 2018, which is a hostile situation full of mental and physical torment.

“They shot me with something and hurt my hip, and there is stealing and lots of theft,” she said. “It’s not the gangs that you would think are doing this. It’s people, clean-cut American people, middle-class people, who are the worst perpetrators.”

As the city moves toward a full-time shelter for the homeless community, she is a big advocate of the effort.

“Just like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) do outreach through AL anon, we need a strong pool like that for those of us from the human trafficking world which is where I stem from since I was nine months old,” Estrella said. “It’s taken me half-way around the world and back again.” 

That’s where Malu, her service dog, comes in, she said, as the canine has four degrees, search and rescue, autism, PTSD, and seizures which has come from hands-on work. Budding Nations got her certification from the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) guidelines.

“They are a huge vast network of individuals,” Estrella said. “During severe PTSD moments, which seems to be the biggest problem now, there is a break with reality, so everybody becomes an enemy, and you’re like a caged animal in the corner fighting anybody who comes at you. Manu blocks that because she stays grounded in what’s real and she tells me to back down, sort of and becomes the wolf, leader of the pack and I become her puppy. I trust her because we have such trust issues, but I can trust her openly and without any reservations. Whatever she says goes, so I don’t accidentally attack somebody that has no reason to be attacked.”

That can be a difficult task, she said, which stems from the abuse Estrella came from, so Manu helps her after the attack passes because she is riddled with guilt about whether she hurt someone, and wishes she wasn’t so broken.

“That’s where her therapeutic sense comes in, and she is a cuddly thing that says it’s okay, you’re a survivor,” Estrella said. “Sometimes it’s cuddling, and other times it’s hearing me out, and sometimes it’s like shouting and telling me to stop shouting.”

Shelter Manager Amanda Herrera had a busy night and said the facility had three women come in, including Estrella who slept with Manu and a family that was diverted to a motel about 30 minutes after they arrived and the county will provide the family with services.

“We had 27 men in here, so that brings our total to 35 people,” she said. “There were 30 people who stayed in the shelter.”

The shelter operates with many volunteers, she said, plus catering from Dominic’s, and despite it being busy, the evening went smoothly, as the rain came as predicted and everyone was already coming inside, put their belongings away and was eating.

“It was great the way it happened,” she said. “I thought they would be here until 9 a.m., but we have to take into account that today is Sunday, and there are also a handful of them who are out on their paper routes. We have to keep that in mind because most of the homeless individuals have jobs like that, so we let a few of them out early this morning.”

She had a painting party earlier in the day and said there were many compliments about the new color scheme as it now has a temporary shelter vibe instead of a National Guard feel.

“I am trained as a social worker, so the social worker in me says let me give them a home and not just a place where they can lay their head at night, but they can come and talk to me. The ones who stay behind and clean up are the ones who know me and know that I will stay behind until it is done.”

 She said the center just got staffed and she is trying to train them to be more empathetic towards the plight of the homeless.

“There are some severely mentally ill individuals in here, and I am not compliant to medications so we might have people who talk to themselves, but they are not a danger to themselves or others,” she said. “You’ve got to speak cautiously to them. Nothing is bothering them and they are not bothering anybody,” she said. “I think this population needs a little more compassion and somewhere to call home at least for the time being.”