RICHMOND -- The social services arm of the Catholic Diocese of Oakland has just made a big investment here in the form of a new center providing resources for the needy, the homeless, immigrants and people in crisis.

The Catholic Charities of the East Bay's West County Service Center opened in downtown Richmond earlier this month and the agency held an open house Thursday to show the community what it has to offer.

The center provides employment, housing services and immigration services for refugees, training for people who aid crime victims, mental health counseling and other resources, such as free income tax preparation assistance, and housing and foreclosure counseling.

CCEB Chief Executive Chuck Fernandez said the 13,500-square-foot center will help the agency offer "a continuum of care" in West County as opposed to treating single problems, such as a food or rent need, by themselves.

"We're going to be working with each client across all services, immigration, housing, employment and education, with a holistic approach," Fernandez said.

Catholic Charities began a strategic planning process more than two years ago that found that the lack of a central facility in West Contra Costa was making it difficult to provide a broad range of critical services to the needy in an area where the need is great, according to Steve Wilcox, the organization's former chief executive officer.


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According to 2010 U.S. Census data, one in five Richmond residents is living in poverty, compared with one in 10 residents in the East Bay as a whole.

"When we determined the area of greatest need (in the East Bay), Richmond and the Iron Triangle came out at the top of the list," Wilcox said.

The Oakland-based agency's work in West Contra Costa in recent years has included offering English as a Second Language and other classes at Grace Lutheran Church and Verde Elementary School in Richmond.

The center "gives us a visible presence in West County, where we can control our space and schedule our time," Wilcox said. "We can be a better community resource and offer more ESL and job training."

The services center will also help Catholic Charities expand its work with the West Contra Costa Unified School District, a key partner, in restorative justice for students.

Restorative justice programs are a tool to help heal the effects of bullying and assault, for example, on victims while helping perpetrators understand the damage they have caused in an effort to deter them from repeating the offense.

Catholic Charities of the East Bay provided services to 10,380 clients in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in 2013, according to its statistics.

Catholic Charities also has drop-in centers in Oakland and Concord.

NEW CENTER
Catholic Charities' West Contra Costa Services Center
Where: 217 Harbour Way, Richmond
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday
Phone: 510-234-5110