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FEATURE


fulfillment in helping the homeless As a leader for the San Diego Rescue Mission, Herb Johnson works hard to make a difference for the community he knows and loves


By John Philip Wyllie SDUN Reporter


After 30 years as a successful, high-ranking corporate executive for major corporations, Kensing- ton’s Herb Johnson found himself yearning for a new challenge. At an age when many of his col- leagues were opting to cruise into leisurely retirements, Johnson set sail on a different course. Known for his innovations in the field of logistics and supply chain manage- ment while working for companies such as Wang Labortories and Polaroid, the Harvard educated Johnson wanted to use some of the many skills he had acquired for a totally different purpose. Instead of working to find new


ways to reduce costs and increase corporate profits, Johnson sought a job that would allow him to make a difference by giving hope to those caught in the downward spiral of homelessness.


Five years ago, Johnson walked


into the offices of the San Diego Rescue Mission (SDRM) in search of a meaningful and rewarding opportunity. Now 66, Johnson is working harder than ever and loving it.


“How I got here is no accident. My mother used to drag us around on Saturdays to all the women’s shelters in order to get rid of all the stuff she had collected in her car the previous two weeks. She was a person who gave back to everybody,” Johnson said. “I guess I got some of that from


her. I worked in homeless shelters on the East Coast for over 20 years in a program that was started by my church. So, I feel very comfort- able in this environment.” After working two years for SDRM teaching night classes, Johnson became a member of its Board of Directors. Not long after they decided upon a change in di- rection, the organization appointed him to the position of CEO. SDRM is the only private


comprehensive homeless rehabili- tation center in San Diego. Under Johnson’s guidance, it has become a model for homeless agencies throughout the country. It serves an estimated 10,000 homeless men, women and children in San Diego. Receiving no federal or state funding, the SDRM is en-


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tirely dependent upon private and corporate donations and with the economy struggling, the number of homeless increasing, those donations are getting harder than ever to secure. “My job is really that of a


facilitator. I have good operating teams in each one of our areas. I have to get them the resources they need to do their jobs. I am the cheerleader for fundraising and for our outbound connections within the community, churches and civic groups,” Johnson said. “Fundraising is a huge part of what I do. We provide about 50 million dollars worth of services to the city without taking any city funding for our operations. Coming to a non-profit Christian organization like this one is totally different than anything I have ever been into. It is a different lifestyle here, but in my prior work I think I learned a lot about managing a lot of diverse sets of workforces. And that has helped me along here.” Breaking the cycle of homeless-


ness is a major goal of SDRM. But it is something that is easier said than done. The Mission attempts to do that by providing long term, comprehensive assistance. “While our clients are here, we have them look at their lifestyles. We have them take a look at some of the things that they can change. We have a couple of programs here that started on my watch,” he said. One is the outpatient clinic


where counselors see approxi- mately 160 patients per week and the recuperative care unit which takes patients out of $1,800 a day hospital beds, and works to get them off the streets. “We help them with case management and counseling. Sixty percent of them are going out of there to permanent housing. We now have people going from our recuperative care to our yearlong programs. We have a very, very high success rate on both the men and women’s programs. These


see Homeless, page 7 Kensington resident finds


San Diego Uptown News | March 4-17, 2011


5


Herb Johnson, 66, decided to give back to the community versus retire by taking the job of CEO for San Diego Rescue Mission, a nonprofit that works to provide aid for San Diego's homeless. (John Phillip Wyllie/SDUN)


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