I talked to Whitnee Layne Gaston, Founder and CEO of Sable Sands Sanctuary Inc., about their shelter facilities and transitional housing that they’re currently funding through Go Fund Me.
Mary Ann Mahnoney: Hi Whitnee! Why do you think that organizations like Sable Sands Sanctuary Inc. are so important to America and the rest of the world?
Whitnee Layne Gaston: Thank you for having me, Mary Ann. There are so many agencies, organizations, shelters, transitional houses… you name it! The are too many to count, and most of them follow an exact model. The majority of these agencies that are geared to assist homeless persons have a cookie cutter formula, and let’s face it, not everyone eats cookies. What may be good and work well for one person may not work for another person, and be horrible for the next person.
When the worst happens, individuals are then trapped or stuck in an almost tornado-like situation, where they are being tossed around with no particular direction or sense of belonging. After a while, depression may develop if it hasn’t already, from the mere fact of being displaced. Sable Sands Sanctuary honors a model that is beyond the typical shelter one. We believe that each person, whether they are displaced or not, is an individual first, which clearly means that they all have specific needs.
In regards to being displaced, nobody’s story is the same. At SSSInc, when addressing homeless persons, we cater to a specific audience, meet them where they are, and focus on their individual needs. SSSInc is unique, because we are one of few homeless shelter agencies that cater to women who don’t suffer from major addictions, but are fleeing from abuse or fighting mental illness.
MAM: If someone is being domestically abused or is in any kind of danger, who should their first point of contact be?
WLG: In a situation where anyone (male or female) is being mistreated they should leave immediately. Go to a police station. Sometimes that can be intimidating, and some people can find comfort at a hospital where there are social workers on call to help. Also, if they live in the USA, they can utilize 211, a nationwide data base for help. But just leave, you’ll Love yourself better for it later
MAM: Why is this cause so important to you?
WLG: Not only am I the founder of SSSInc, but I consider myself a client. I know the system first hand by being an employee of agencies that help the under-served, and I understand what it is to be displaced by once being homeless myself. I have learned so much from both sides, growing into my true self and as corny as it may sound, knowing what my purpose is.
I’ve experienced personal and organizational mistakes; I’ve encountered many personalities and egos that translate to failure. I’ve realized that it takes more than a cot and an intake number to encourage success and nurture skills. Sable Sands Sanctuary Inc. is important to me because we are one of a kind. I’ve developed a method of relief for our target audience, women like me, my sister, mother, aunt, and friends where you aren’t labeled as a case load. I see SSSInc as more than a place to transition from shelter to home; it’s an overall wellness transition that aims to strengthen women’s confidence, health, and skill set so that they can be their very best.
MAM: Many women don’t look for help because they believe that there is nowhere to go when they do need help. How do you think this new ‘sanctuary’ is going to benefit women?
WLG: Right. One of the unique things offered at SSSInc, is that we seek those women. The women we desire to assist are the ones that get turned away, fall through the cracks, and simply don’t fit the typical, or should I say stereotypical image/function of a homeless person. Please don’t get me wrong, and pardon me if I come across raw, this is just what it is. You see, there are many people who need immediate assistance and they are are in a clearly visible battle with their life; I get it. However, there are women who are fighting a battle that you can’t see; who helps them?
Who helps the woman who is not addicted to drugs, who simply needs a place to think, collect herself, and get back whatever was lost on her journey so she can resume her life? Who helps the woman with a grown boy, not quite age appropriate for a regular shelter or the men’s facility? There are women sleeping in their car, or on someone’s spare couch, because they feel like they won’t get the help they need because they don’t, again, appear to need help. Why do people have to appear to be at the lowest state, or look disheveled and spaced out in order to get help? This never made sense to me.
Get help now, before the situation gets worse, because sometimes it’s impossible to make a complete comeback from something minor, or that could have been possibly prevented. Let me explain; it’s easy to turn to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, self-abuse, or even food as a comfort. When someone becomes over stressed, if that happens, a flood of issues come crashing in causing more damage. Now instead of one or three components that need repair, you now have five and eight. Why wait ‘til it gets that deep?
Prevention is key, and protection is necessary. We aim to focus on true individual service plans (ISPs), individual care, meeting the ladies where they are individually, and polishing what is already there!
MAM: I heard that you allow cats and other pets at some of the sanctuaries. Some people use pets, such as cats and dogs, as a form of therapy. Do you use therapy animals at your sanctuaries?
WLG: I freaking love cats! [Laughter] So to answer your question, yes. Currently, we don’t have any on-site, but I do plan on having one cat in the South Carolina home. I believe animals are a great source of therapeutic care. Sadly, many people have to leave their pets and plants behind, due to being displaced. Many shelters, if not all, do not allow pets or plants on the premises. SSSInc will have some homes equipped for animals, with restrictions of course, such as having a kennel on site where they can be kept close to their families without intimidating the other residents. After all, our dogs, cats, fish, birds, and gerbils are considered family, too, right? Some people even have a strong connection with plants. It’s sad when a family member gets left behind.
MAM: What services are offered to help and support the women and children that will go to the sanctuary for help?
WLG: Qualified individuals will have the opportunity to take advantage of many services that aim to restore balance and clarity to our ladies ranging from employment and job readiness, clothing, food, housing workshops, health & wellness, peer mentoring, transportation, education, children, and social services.
Again, everyone becomes displaced (homeless) for different reasons, so shouldn’t their care be far from a cookie cutter? We won’t waste your time; we all have things to do! [Laughter] Seriously though, if it’s money management that got you in your situation, then let’s deal with that. If it was a fire, natural disaster, or you fell ill and you lost your job, let’s deal with that. If there is an individual with a decent job, are we going to force them to attend job skill classes, just so the agency can meet quota? Then what happens, is that person now must choose how and if they even get the help they need, by putting their job on the line or conforming to the rules of the shelter, that doesn’t really concern them. It’s a waste of time, energy, and space. That method is absolutely INSANE, and can be frustrating. So now we have another unnecessary component to deal with.
Look, it’s simple, don’t drill a bigger hole in my boat, then come to my rescue when I’m drowning.
MAM: How many other sanctuaries are there? Are there any strategies in place to expand if there’s just one so far?
WLG: Currently we have one house in South Carolina that we are closing in on, in about a week from today. The strategy is simple; we have something that is needed. I am confident that once our methods are tested and proven with this home, there will be demand for Sable Sands Sanctuaries across the nation and possibly across the world.
MAM: I read on the Sable Sands Sanctuary Go Fund Me page that you’ve received support from The NHL and the Carolina Panthers, how does that make you feel? And what does their support include? How about that Walmart grant?
WLG: Ah man, the joy that fills and erupts inside of me is an incredibly hard feeling to explain, although I think I just did! [Laughter] I like to say #EveryBrickCounts because it’s true. Whether its money, products, time, energy, encouraging words, or sharing links, posts etc, it all makes such a big difference. We received a box of wonderful goodies from the National Hockey League, a 2016 signed lithograph football from the Carolina Panthers, and so far, a monetary gift from a local Walmart. It is one of the best feelings to have someone and/or companies believe in your vision and wish to see it bloom.
MAM: Is Sable Sands Sanctuary Inc. looking to expand and have more sanctuaries in the near future?
WLG: We do have plans of expanding. I have already, believe it or not, targeted 20 cities where you will find a Sable Sands Sanctuary. Don’t be surprised if we come to the UK! We are manifesting our next two moves to be in Hawaii and NYC, and we will go accordingly to where we are needed. Sure, it will be hard setting up in such places where the cost of living is astronomical, but that just lets me know that Sable Sands is needed. I chose Hawaii because of its incredible homeless population rate (465 per 100,000); it is the highest among the states in America. It’s very sad that such a beautiful place that is considered as a dream vacation, also doubles as a nightmare for so many homeless people.
MAM: What rewards available to those who donate on the Go Fund Me page?
WLG: Not only will you walk away with a sense of purpose, and I hope, contributing to a worthy cause, but you can receive great perks!! Everyone who donates will receive a social media “Thank You” and have their name on the donor website, which is being constructed. Higher gifts of monetary gratitude are rewarded with personalized plaques, shirts, drinkware, signed agency certificates, and/or a glass brick with their name on it, which will be placed in our sanctuary’s garden wall of giving. It’s a beautiful thing and I am so grateful for all the support so far!
MAM: Thanks for talking with me, Whitnee.
Sable Sands Sanctuary needs $6,000 to reach their goal, so please, share a little Thanksgiving cheer by donating to their very worthy cause through the Go Fund Me page.