Path of Life Ministries CEO Damien O’Farrell Joins Aaron Norris on the Norris Group Real Estate Radio Show #538




CEO of Path of Life Ministries

(Full Bio)



Aaron Norris is joined again this week by Damien O’Farrell. Damien a community organizer and social entrepreneur who lives in Riverside. He is the CEO of Path of Life Ministries, the largest homeless shelter and housing provider in all of Riverside County.

Episode Highlights

      • What are some misconceptions about homelessness, and why is this important to understand?
      • How does Damien and Path of Life Ministries reach out to the homeless to get them off the street?
      • What does the ideal home look like in which to place a homeless person just off the street?
      • Does he work with more homeless individuals or whole families?
      • What is functional zero, and which group of people has reached this status?
      • How can landlords get involved with this themselves?
      • What has the success rate been for people who have gone into the housing program provided by Path of Life?

Last week they framed some of the homelessness issue, and this week they will discuss its connection with real estate investing. They first began by discussing misconceptions about homelessness. Damien said this is important because the misconceptions about what people are experiencing or who homeless individuals are is one of the things that makes it either more or less difficult to help individuals get out of those situations. The stigma that is attached to someone who may be homeless, especially if they have some mental health issue they are dealing with, could make them afraid to ask for help. It is a paradigm shifter for some individuals, but the bottom line is that homelessness is a situation and not an identity. There is no typical homeless person unless they are all like any other category of people.

If a person in a homeless situation gets into housing, they are no longer homeless. Their homelessness is solved. They may have any number of other issues or things they need to work out in their life to remain stable and move towards a thriving life. This is something we have all done, but they are doing it within the context of the stability of a home. Maslow taught that once you have your basic needs met, you can then start concentrating on other deeper, psychological needs. This is true for those in homeless situations as well, which is why housing first works.

We talk a lot about the welfare system. A lot of people will say about the homeless that they need to be drug-free before getting social assistance. What Damien is talking about flips this, and for a lot of people it may be uncomfortable. Housing basically says they take you where you are at right now, regardless of your situation, and then you surround them with services. For a landlord looking at that, he can already sense people’s cringing on the other side. Damien said it makes him feel uncomfortable too because it goes against what he wants to be true. What he wants to be true is if somebody has a desire to get out of a homeless situation, can get themselves clean from whatever may be contributing to it, get into a house, and stay there.

Unfortunately, the statistics show that this does not work too well. A person has to have the whereabouts to make it through and navigate that system. If they are addicted to a substance or using it as a coping mechanism, it is much more difficult to change that behavior when you are afraid of what will happen that day. Path of Life has had some situations where they had to step in and move somebody. Damien has property himself as well as a lot of other landlords, and he knew that they had to do this many times. These were with tenants they rented to who qualified for their rents, and even worse things happened to their properties. They did not have anybody to call or turn to like Path of Life’s landlords had with them.

When you look at the high degree of success and how well people take care of the places they are in because they are special to them, then look at the rare cases where the person is struggling, just the fact that they have the support structure Path of Life provides gives them an additional amount of support for the landlord. In addition, the landlord is getting his check on time every month. This behaves like Section 8, but better because of the support of services that come alongside an individual. They are given a voucher, have to find housing on their own, and they use that voucher to cover a part of their rent. In Path of Life’s situation, the lease is still in the name of the tenant living there, and in many cases they are responsible for a portion of their rent. The goal of Path of Life is to get them to the place where they can be responsible for the whole of their rent.

They cut the check; so the whole amount of the rent is coming on time to them every single month, and Path of Life ensures this. They continue to walk alongside the tenant in what is known as case management. Damien could tell you story after story of individuals who turned around and started volunteering, and you would have never seen this if you saw them in their prior situation. The landlords are also very happy. Aaron said he could see this being very powerful if they turn around and volunteer their time because there is nothing like hearing from somebody who has done it successfully themselves to get out of that situation.

Aaron was fascinated by Damien’s prospect of getting someone who had been on the streets almost all their life and convince them to move into housing. Aaron asked Damien how he reaches out to them and starting that conversation with them. He said the conversation basically starts with, “Hi, how are you?” The people at Path of Life are out on the streets and building trust. From here they ask them a series of questions including what they want. What they base this off of is the core of what is known as the National Best Practice and Behavioral Health called motivational interviewing. Overall, they know that once a person is motivated to change their situation themselves, the chances are much more likely they will change it rather than having something forced on them. Motivational interviewing is a process of asking questions.

One of the ways this worked out in the field was for a gentleman named ‘Nacho’ who lived under a bridge for 20 years. He would chase their outreach team away and always tell them he did not want their help. He thought they were going to take advantage of him. However, once the outreach team was able to build the trust with him, they asked him what he wanted. He said what he wanted was a cell phone. This can be a life line for people living out in the street, and there are free cell phones you can get with a limited number of minutes. They told him there were only a few things they needed to do to get him qualified for it. From here, he went with them to fill out his documents and received his IDs. He experienced a small win in that this actually worked.

Time goes on, a few more steps, and he is in his own place leased in his own name. He ends up being one of their star peer support specialists and is doing very well. The process is to build trust, create small wins, help people see this can actually work, and help them reconnect with the desire in their life they once had. You cannot label everybody the same because their journeys are different. For somebody who has been on the streets as long as Nacho was, who knows if they even still have their ID or mailing address. There are studies that have been done that show what being in a crisis can do to the mind.

People in homeless situations are facing crisis all the time, many who have experiences of PTSD. They are always in survival mode and watching their back, which does something to their mind. You have to have a certain amount of safety created for you to even be able to think differently. Without somebody to help them do this, chances are they will do it on their own because they are physiologically not able to do it. It is not because of the lack of desire, but rather they are physiologically not able to do it on their own. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it is a cruel thing to ask someone to pick themselves up by their bootstraps when they do not even have bootstraps.

Aaron asked after they gained their trust and placed them in a home, what is the ideal home look like. Damien said it is anything that works for them. They are not going to put a single individual into a 5-bedroom home, but instead they will find an efficiency unit or one-bedroom place. There are certain HUD restrictions that only allow them to pay up to a certain amount for a certain size family. This is based on fair market rents, which does need to be adjusted. Fair market in Barstow is not fair market in Riverside. This creates a difficulty for Path of Life for which he cannot blame the landlords with them taking less money than what is available to them. However, there are ways in which there can be a donation given that can be a tax write-off for the landlord if they are looking into that. If they charge less than the fair market rent, they will need to get the advice of their tax person to make sure they are good with what they charge.

When people start to understand the connection that continuing homeless situations has to so many other areas of our economy and quality of life, we start to learn that it is truly better for all of us if we do not have homeless individuals on the street. You have to put aside what it does to an individual person who is homeless and what it does to them when they are out of that situation. When studies have been done that track the cost of homelessness and somebody remaining homeless, the latest study was around $67,000 a year when you factor in code enforcement, police, fire calls, and the lack of business and medical. Getting somebody out of that situation dramatically reduces the cost to the community.

You can also look at the quality of life when the number of individuals not in homeless situations out in public is greatly improved. When people do not have homes or homes they can afford, they have less to spend on every other area of life. They have to work harder and have less to invest in their children’s education. When it comes to a medical bill, they may have to choose poorly about medical insurance and not be able to pay that medical bill. We are all affected if we are in the insurance pool. The emergency rooms, if somebody uses these rather than primary care, are not available to those who actually have an emergency. Again and again you see the effects on the community from those in housing they cannot afford. This is why it is actually beneficial for the whole community to figure out how to make this possible.

Aaron asked how many of the houses are individuals versus families. Damien said they currently run 80 units throughout the county. Now they also have an additional 35 families with whom they work. There are more single individuals in homeless situations than there are family units. However, with the numbers of people there are more family individuals in family units than there are individuals.

Aaron asked Damien if he typically places individuals together, or is it very purposeful that he keeps people separate. Damien said it depends upon what works for them and contributes to their longest stability. They really take a client-centered approach and want to find the best fit so that person will thrive in their situation. Damien asked what case management looks like since he is tailoring it per person depending on their specific need. Damien said yes, which Aaron reiterated by talking about partnerships with behavioral health.

Path of Life has their own behavioral health team that they use for triage to help people through their transition and provide access. Even their behavioral health system is not all that accessible, and people have to wait weeks to get in to see the doctor. They have to figure out what to do in the meantime, and this is where the behavioral specialists, 13 interns and Marriage, Family therapists, and licensed social workers, come alongside the individuals to address their immediate need and connect them to other long-term services. The navigators meet weekly with the individuals, check in on them, and sometimes help them learn basic life skills they have never been taught in order to take care of themselves.

As soon as they are able to take care of themselves, they can then work on the process of moving toward employment. Their goal is to help them get employed by working with their employment partners for some direct placements using their training and certificate programs. They help people to not only become employment-ready, but to also make the transition into employment and staying there. Aaron asked if they get to stay in the place long-term, which Damien said yes unless they violate the lease.

Path of Life has a rapid re-housing program. The permanent support of housing focuses on individuals with the highest barrier. That funding, as long as it is available, can provide up to 100% of their rent indefinitely. Rapid re-housing is where individuals that need less support can get to the point of self-sufficiency as quickly as possible. They can go within a year to up to two with a very specific goal-oriented plan in mind that they have created to get them to that place.

Aaron asked Damien what the status is of what he needs as far as units that need to be furnished. Damien said they have a pretty good supply of furniture, but they are always interested in others who want to provide that furniture. They have a warehouse from which they draw and help furnish the units. This includes beds, couches, and refrigerators. This is not something federal funds provide to cover, so these are things that come from private funds. Aaron thinks a lot of rehabbers are laughing on their side because it is not unusual for you to get a rehab that has been left a lot of furniture. Aaron asked if this is something they can call to drop off, which Damien said they can. If it is not something you would be afraid to sit on or sleep on, then Path of Life will take it. Aaron jokingly called this the smell test. If this is true, then that person exiting that homeless situation probably does not want to sit on it.

Aaron asked about functional zero. Damien said if they reach functional zero in the county, for example, it means that any person who presents themselves with a homeless situation and wants to get out of it can be housed very quickly. They can usually accomplish it in 30-90 days. They get them into housing they can afford, whether it is subsidized or not. They are not at functional zero for most people in the county, but they are at functional zero and are the first large county in the nation to reach functional zero for homeless veterans. Path of Life has played a part in this by connecting with veterans, helping do assessments, and helping find housing placements. Some of them have gone into the units Path of Life has supported, but the partnerships are extensive.

The City of Riverside, County of Riverside, Department of Social Services, the Department of Behavioral Health, VA, Lighthouse, and US Vets all came together with Path of Life Ministries to try and figure out a different way of doing this. They created a by-name list and strategically went through it. The first reason this was possible was because of the collaboration and everyone figuring out what worked and didn’t work. The other reason was Section 8 vouchers that are specifically reserved for veterans. If you write enough vouchers, you can help those veterans get into housing by subsidizing it through those vouchers. Another big factor was compassionate landlords who gave some people a break and took some risk on people who were in housing situations and doing very well because they were veterans. Now Path of Life is looking at who the next group of people is who they can help reach functional zero.

Aaron asked if he had a wish list, would it be to go after single-family here and there or to create a building where several individuals are in one spot? Damien said small buildings with lots of units in them can be one small piece of the answer. Damien does not think this is best for the individual or for the community. It is not because the individuals in there are bad people, but rather Path of Life learned some things in the 1970s with the Projects. They learned what did not work and that the best practice other multi-site housing is mixed income housing. Here, people can live next door to people who are in different situations, and they can learn from one another.

Aaron said this is something that is huge in New York, and he does not understand why it has not been as popular on the west coast. Aaron said he is sure the builders in New York receive different tax breaks from the city government for doing that. If you get one of those units, it is a lifelong gift.

Aaron asked where landlords should go if they are interested in getting involved in something like this. Damien said they can reach out to the Path of Life Ministries at or send an email to They would just need to tell them they are a landlord, give the number of units they are in charge of, and say they would like to talk with them about it. They are in the process of bringing on a landlord specialist who can sit down with every landlord and help them through the process of determining the best use of their property. They are not here yet, but they can still offer the service. They have individuals in the real estate industry who are on their board and have done this. The important thing to note is that if they make housing available for people in the community and think outside the box a little bit, they can all benefit. This includes not only those who go into housing, but also who are interested in real estate investment and development.

Aaron asked Damien if he is more interested in the smaller units. However, he said he is actually interested in both the smaller and larger units since they have some large families. They are interested in all sizes of units, and it is very important to have a good flow. They never know who they will be working with; so it’s nice to have a menu of options that might be available. They are not expecting anyone to hold the unit vacant to wait for the people at Path of Life, but they can get people in and take care of it pretty quickly.

Aaron asked if there are any other resources for listeners who are not local. Damien said one of best resources related to housing, homelessness, the use of housing, and mutually beneficial ways is the National Alliance to End Homelessness. They have some really great resources someone can check out as well as be connected to different agencies throughout the country who are utilizing this practice.

Aaron asked what the success rate has been for people who have gone into this type of housing. It is an important thing to talk about as well because the national average for the success of people staying in their housing after getting there through one of these programs is up over 85%. This is really high. Traditional models of forcing people to figure it out on their own are in the low 40s. To go from that to 85% is really huge. They have had closer to 99% success rate and have only operated the programs they operate for a couple years now. It is still early on, but they are seeing success.

Thank you for tuning in for Aaron’s interview with Damien O’Farrell. Path of Life Ministries will be holding an event on June 3 at the Riverside Medical Clinic. It is called the Pub and Grub challenge, and it features men who cook and community groups that come out and cook small bites. The community comes out and gets to test all the food and vote on the best. There will be celebrity chefs choosing the best dishes as well as brew tasting, live music, a Corvette show, and a featured appearance by Miss California.

For more information about The Norris Group’s California hard money loans or our California Trust Deed investments, visit the website or call our office at 951-780-5856 for more information. For upcoming California real estate investor training and events, visit The Norris Group website and our California investor calendar. You’ll also find our award-winning real estate radio show on KTIE 590am at 6pm on Saturdays or you can listen to over 170 podcasts in our free investor radio archive.

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