Aug 11, 2019 12:54PM
By Pam Kessler
Vision, perseverance, and compassion drive Donna Colombo every day to exceed even her own expectations. After a successful career in training and development, Colombo left the corporate world to help people without a home in Walnut Creek. Inspired by her mother’s last words, “go make memories,” Colombo and her team of volunteers, transformed the former Fresh Start on Trinity Avenue into Trinity Center, a place where people in need could access a broad spectrum of services eight hours a day, five days a week.
Serving as Executive Director since 2012, Colombo’s advocacy has elevated community awareness about homelessness and inspired support through donations, volunteerism, and grants. Serving between 50-60 individuals each day, Trinity Center offers basic safety net services—food, clothing, showers, laundry facilities, mail delivery, telephone service, and a safe place to rest. Local church groups, White Pony Express, Loaves & Fishes and the League of Newcomers Club, among others, support Trinity’s work. “I believe the best way to get things done is to partner and to collaborate. If someone is already doing it, we don’t need to duplicate their efforts,” says Colombo.
A Walnut Creek resident for over 35 years, Colombo understands that homelessness is tied to economic vitality, housing, mental health, and public safety. In partnership with the WCPD, she created the Homeless Task Force in 2013, bringing key city partners together to find effective solutions for homelessness.
As Bay Area rents soar, Colombo points to the affordable housing crisis as the primary reason for the increasing numbers of people without a home. “We’re not talking about criminals, it’s not a crime to be homeless. Our members come to us from all walks of life. Many have kids and grandkids.” One of her greatest challenges is finding a place for Trinity’s members to sleep at night. “When the police clear out the camps, the people have nowhere to go,” Colombo says.
After six years of tireless perseverance and dedication, May 2018 marked the groundbreaking of Colombo’s innovative low-income housing project, St. Paul’s Commons on Trinity Avenue, a partnership with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Resources for Community Development. Uniting affordable housing units—44 studios and one-bedrooms—with the services and resources required to elevate individuals out of poverty, St. Paul's Commons is a model for other communities. “We need to work together so projects like this one happen all over the Bay Area,” she says.
With her retirement planned for early 2020, Columbo’s priority is to establish her community in their permanent new home, St. Paul’s Commons, but unexpectedly one more move is required. Trinity’s lease on their temporary quarters at S. California Boulevard expires at the end of August, but construction of St. Paul’s Commons will not be complete until late November. Their current landlord, Hall Equities Group, offered Trinity a two-month lease at 1300 Boulevard Way as a temporary day-time home to continue services until St. Paul Commons is ready for move-in.