As an author, board member and executive director for Interfaith Outreach Project for Empowerment “iHope” Resource Center in San Clemente, Cate Murphy is on a mission to help the homeless in South Orange County because she knows first hand how challenging it is to walk in their shoes.
“I remember how terrifying it was not knowing where to sleep and where I would get a meal. It’s so lonely and scary,” she said.
In 2001, Murphy left an abusive marriage of 17 years and gained full custody of her nine children. Two years later, she received a 60-day notice to leave her apartment, was released from her part-time job as a technical writer and trainer and lost custody of her children. Although her parents attempted to purchase a house for her in the past, the deals fell through and her siblings brought her children in. It was the saddest time of her life.
"It was overwhelming. There were days I felt like giving up," she said. "There is no guidebook anywhere on how to become un-homeless."
After two years of job-shifting and living in shelters, she found work with OC Partnership where she found housing options and later came on board with iHope and reunited with her children.
iHOPEoc Inc., formed in 2008, is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing basic needs and training for at-risk, homeless, or the working poor who need emergency financial assistance. According to Murphy, the group had an office in Capistrano Beach, but it was only used for board member meetings.
Since its grand opening in 2012, iHope’s resource center has served over 1,000 clients and now have more than 50 trained volunteers who collaborate with government agencies and other non-profits for referrals in long-term housing and medical, dental, vision, and behavioral health assistance for their clients.
The resource center also provides sack lunches, clean clothes, crisis management, vocational counseling, and free use of their utilities, mailing address and portable shower services that operates at Capo Beach every Saturday.
As an executive director, Murphy is the face of iHope. She writes grants and administers fundraising events with volunteers, which allows the organization to serve more people every year. In addition to her responsibilities with iHope, she also serves on the board of Irvine Housing Opportunities, a corporation that works in the development of affordable rental homes.
When Murphy was homeless, she had no guidance. Nobody explained to her what she needed to do.
“I was living in my mini-van and couch surfing,” she said. “I didn’t know where to go. I was clueless.”
Through her experience, she has made it their mission to provide enough resources to help clients become self-sufficient.
“We want to become a one-stop for the homeless; a place where you only have to go to one location to get everything taken care of,” she said. “I didn’t get to do my laundry for free or sit down with a case manager. Our volunteers troubleshoot and ask ‘What is your situation? Where do you want to go? Let’s create a plan to get you there.’”
“She [Murphy] is the most kind-hearted woman I’ve ever met,” said Tina Metzger, a part-time case manager at iHope.
Metzger started out working for iHope after Murphy approached her husband, who is a professional photographer, and asked him to donate his artwork to the organization for their silent auction fundraiser. After attending a volunteer dinner one evening, Metzger was hooked.
“I started working one day a week and then quickly started working 25 hours a week,” said Metzger. “It’s rewarding to help people when they’re in dire need. It’s an amazing feeling to know that you helped them get back on their feet when people have given up on them.”
Murphy’s next step is to open an emergency shelter, especially after the deaths of Scott “Scooch” Miller and Brenda “Brandy” Fox earlier this year. Miller died while he slept in the bushes at San Onofre State Park and Fox died of natural causes while she slept in an alley behind a Big “5” Sporting Goods Store. Murphy said Fox was a client of iHope.
In Murphy’s letter to Mayor Weinberg of Dana Point and city council members, .
"I could make a lot more money in a corporate job, but, I felt like I needed to do this to make a difference," she said. "Life is about loving and serving other people, especially those who are not lovable."
The organization will host their first annual “iHope Golf Classic” fundraiser at Bella Collina Towne & Golf Club on April 1. Proceeds from the event will support the organization’s vital outreach efforts.
For information on iHope, visit www.ihopeoc.org.