Matthew Kennedy shines a flashlight for Patrick Michael McInley Barker as he browses for a pair of pants on Friday in a shopping center parking lot. Kennedy, who was homeless for several months, now provides clothing, toiletries and other resources to homeless strangers.
Matthew Kennedy said he was making $80,000 a year managing a high-rise in downtown Los Angeles before the recession left him homeless.
"When the large home developers stopped building abruptly in 2008, my career stopped," said Kennedy, 40, of Ventura. "I had to do a six-month homeless stint in Goleta from May to November of 2011 living in my van."
During that time, Kennedy discovered a wealth of free resources online.
"The government and other organizations have resources available for homeless people, but nobody knows what they are," he said.
"I made the website for the midlevel manager like myself who lost their job due to the economy and couldn't find a job and ended up camping in their van," Kennedy said, who drew on his skills as a Web designer to create the site. "I was so relieved that I could apply for these free services. I want to make people aware of what's available. This gives them a place to start."
The website has a directory of cities in California with programs available.
"It provides the resources to apply for everything — or as much as possible right away — to get the balls rolling all at one time," Kennedy said. "If you know what to do right away and get the ball rolling, you stand a much better chance of getting back on your feet again."
He got free eyeglasses from a business called SEE International. Before he became homeless, he also received a month's worth of rent — $1,075 — from Catholic Charities, "a conduit for some funds from the federal government that people just don't know about," he said.
"Obviously Matt has a passion for helping others who have been put in situations like he's been in," said Clyde Reynolds, executive director of the Turning Point Foundation, a Ventura-based nonprofit that offers shelter, supported housing and rehabilitation programs with a focus on mentally ill adults.
Reynolds recently met Kennedy when he was seeking advice about starting his nonprofit.
"Having been there and having to find the resources himself — and knowing how the system works — can be really helpful because a person who finds themselves homeless for the first time may not know where to turn or what resources are available," Reynolds said. "The fact that Matt is no longer homeless is also important because it sends the message that there is hope."
When he became homeless, "I tried to get as much help for myself as I could because I could not find a job," Kennedy said. "I believe we are going to see many more people like me, unfortunately."
Kennedy distributes clothes, flashlights and other needed items a few days a week to homeless people on the streets of Ventura and Oxnard.
He said he always needs donations, including blankets, sleeping bags, pet food, tarps and toiletries.