The Work of God: St. Paul's Commons, Walnut Creek

I landed here in Walnut Creek, at St. Paul’s, in November of 2016 for my fourth position in the six years that I’ve lived in Northern California. I always enjoy moving around and meeting new folks and being some small part of the beautiful tapestry called the Diocese of California. Since I was already living in the East Bay, I had some ideas about what was happening at St. Paul’s. I did not, however, realize just how big and how amazing the work of St. Paul’s was.
 
I am, and I continue to be, blown away by the sheer courage and dedication of this community and what it is that they are accomplishing. St. Paul’s is quietly, and with considerable perseverance, doing the work of God for the people of God, and the story of this work is remarkable.
 
In a nutshell, St. Paul’s is tearing down two old existing buildings on its property and building St. Paul’s Commons, a four-story facility that will house 45 units of affordable housing and provide new space for Trinity Center’s homeless ministries and meeting spaces for the parish and neighborhood.

 St. Paul's Commons plans
The project was the joint brainchild of the Rev. Sylvia Vasquez and Donna Colombo, who is the current director of Trinity Center. To help make their dream a reality, they enlisted the help of a small group of energetic and inexhaustible folks: Charles Couch, Jennifer Machado, Molly Clopp, Richard Kemink, Dave Mattern and Julie Layne. Despite their each having full lives outside this ministry, they have been working tirelessly with the developer, Resources for Community Development (RCD), and educating the parish of St. Paul’s and the people of Walnut Creek.

 
Though it would be easy to get lost in the details of the history of project and all excellent work involved, I want to focus here on one particular example of change and blessing by lifting up the work Trinity Center Director Donna Colombo. Donna has changed minds in the city of Walnut Creek and, in the process, changed both the lives of its homeless residents and the people who work to help them. St. Paul's Commons will include 45 units of supportive housing and space for Trinity Center's homeless program.

 
My first encounter with Donna has marked my memory and my heart with a passion, an energy, and an example of a dogged determination that I don’t often see. When Donna was asked to take over the ministry “next door” that morphed from its beginnings as Fresh Start into Trinity Center, I am sure that she could not have predicted the journey that was to come or the place that she now finds herself in. I think I began to understand the hard work of this process when I attended the Walnut Creek meeting of the city planning commission.
 

Trinity Center Director Donna Colombo

As I sat through this lengthy meeting, I heard voices of fear, anger, disappointment, and ignorance. But there were also voices of hope. In fact, supporters of Trinity Center’s much-needed temporary move to another location attended in overwhelming numbers. Not only had the people of St. Paul’s come out in force, the greater community of church and charitable organizations were also a strong and visible presence.
 
When I began to investigate some of the back story of this remarkable showing of support, I quickly discovered that the hearts and minds of both political and business members in Walnut Creek had been radically changed through the constant and dedicated work of Donna Colombo and Trinity Center. To a person, the members of the city planning commission voiced absolute support of the mission of Trinity Center and the benefit that this little ministry on Trinity Avenue had been able to provide for Walnut Creek, a city bursting at the seams with growth.
 
The importance of the hearings with the city planning commission and then the city council was because the physical location for Trinity Center Ministries would have to be moved out of their old buildings at St. Paul’s. In order for the project of St. Paul’s Commons to proceed, these buildings had to go. What would Trinity Center do? Where would they go? How could they continue to serve the most vulnerable if the center itself were homeless too!
 
Some of the more angry voices in the city meetings had hoped that the location selected as the temporary site would be denied. The level of fear and ignorance about the homeless was jaw-droppingly painful to listen to, but, patiently, the city council listened to each member of the community who needed to speak and hoped to be heard. Patiently as well, Donna and members of the Trinity Board stood and responded;  they spoke in understanding, love, and compassion for all the fear, for all the anxiety, and for all the urgent needs.

When the council entered into its own open deliberations, the reflections offered by each member were consistent and could be summarized this way: 

Through the dedicated witness of Donna Colombo, and the exceptional day program being run out of Trinity Center, the city of Walnut Creek is a safer more compassionate city. The example of Trinity Center has softened the hearts and minds of city leaders who, just a few short years ago, wouldn’t even admit that Walnut Creek had homeless people.

The council members noted that, with Donna’s persistence and dogged determination, the business community of Walnut Creek has rallied to address realistically and head-on the issue of homelessness downtown. With the help of Donna and the work of Trinity Center, Walnut Creek is able to own its responsibility to those who live on the streets now or who are minutes away from being homeless.

Each member stated clearly that denying Trinity Center its application for this temporary move would be a brutal set-back to efforts to address homelessness and the Bay Area’s housing crisis. 

Trinity Center’s request passed unanimously.
 

For more information on how to support Trinity Center and St. Paul's Commons, please click here.