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River Haven residents live in Tuff Sheds in Ventura

River Haven residents live in Tuff Sheds in Ventura until permanent housing is found
Carl and his cat at River Haven
Oliver Forster
River Haven sign
River Haven sheds
Oliver Forster / NewsChannel 3-12

VENTURA, Calif. - When fires break out near the Santa Clara River in Ventura, people grow concerned about those living nearby in the river bottom.

Suki Sir of the nonprofit Turning Point Foundation said, "I was very concerned for our residents, and the people from the outback were concerned too."

Residents of this self-governed campground are marking its 16th anniversary with little fanfare.

Sir, who serves as Turning Point Foundation's Fund Development Manager, gave residents fire extinguishers donated by Home Depot.

Donations also paid for sheds, but unlike backyard sheds where gardening supplies are stored, these are used as studio homes.

Donors who give $5,500 get their names on the Tuff Shed doors.

"This program is kept alive from donations from the community and people that have great big hearts," said Sir.

Donated solar panels help charge electronics such as cell phones.

Residents used to live in domes, but only one still stands. It serves as a community center.

River Haven Community Manager Donald Hindsman said, "I want them to understand that I am here to help."

Hindsman has an office in a shed and keeps an eye on the city owned property.

"Propane is gold around here, because we have the outback camp, and if you don't lock it up then it disappears."

Propane is needed for creature comforts such as cooking and heating which residents here don't take for granted.

Hindsman said, "This is meaningful for them to have hot baths, hot water and for them to cook."

A man named Carl lives with his cat Raoul in a shed.

He calls it his "one bedroom suite."

Carl decorated his shed with a chandelier, a bed, and fridge.

" I've got a roof over my head, I've got a place where I'm safe and I can shut the door and no one bothers me. It's like minimal existence, "said Carl.

HIs neighbor Michelle Mullin is an artist.

"River Haven is a really good place to be, it is cheap, it is affordable," said Mullin.

Residents pay about $300 a month or less if it's all they can afford.

But with room for only about two dozen residents a River Haven stay is limited to a couple of years and residents have to make a commitment to mental health, well being, and finding a more permanent place to live.

Mullin said, "I 've been here for a year since February of last year. When COVID hit I just kind of rolled with it, and I'm waiting to get vaccinated I am on my housing list."

She used to sleep on the ground.

"I don't have to pack up my stuff everyday and lay it down on the ground everyday and move, and I don't have people calling the police on me complaining that I am a vagrant or I'm homeless."

A call to 211 helped Michelle find this little haven where she keeps her professional art supplies.

Sometimes sells tie dyes and watercolors for a living.

Hindsman said, "Once they've been here for a period of time I call that like a graduation and they start to move on up to independent living or what is it called board and care homes."

Michelle Mullin misses regular showers.

"Would be nice if we had a shower here, that is only thing that is lacking," said Mullin.

Showers are offered on Mondays when Ventura County sets up social services in the dirt parking lot off Harbor Blvd. near River Haven's well-hidden entrance.

Sir said, "This is the hard road. This is not easy to live sober and to regain sanity, it is not easy and they are stepping up to the challenge."

Sir said there isn't a cookie cutter answer for each resident to move on. They try to be flexible. The Turning Point Foundation works with residents and the county to find them Section 8 housing.

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Tracy Lehr

Tracy Lehr is a reporter and the weekend anchor of NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Tracy, click here

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