Social Worker Hero Stanley Machokoto of Lake City Partners Ending Homelessness

Monday, October 26, 2020

Standing with a group of 8 men and women, Stanley jubilantly holds their certificate over his head while they all laugh and smile at him
With much enthusiasm, Stanley accepts the 2019 North Human Services Alliance (NUHSA) Community Service Award on behalf of Lake City Partners

Story by Donna Hawkey

We have many heroes in our community; the police officer, the firefighter, the veteran, and the school teacher. The social worker belongs in that category of hero, too.

Stanley Machokoto is a Shoreline social worker who is a Housing Outreach Specialist with Lake City Partners to End Homelessness, and fondly known to the community as “Stanley.” To make a sustainable living due to our area’s high cost, he works two other jobs. 

Stanley will work sixteen hours a day because it’s hard to say no to someone who calls him at two in the morning in crisis. The teachings and wisdom of the great Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela inspire him.

His mission is “to help end the inhumane practices faced by the marginalized and disabled poor people.” Each long workday he helps fellow human beings who need extra support from the cruel reality of becoming homeless, and especially during COVID-19, it’s been a heartbreaking time.

A bearded man in winter clothes holds a rolled up sleeping bag. He is sitting in a bus shelter and the snow is visible on the ground behind him.
Stanley reaches out to one of his clients during
 a winter storm. Photo by Stanley Machokoto.

Stanley knows too well what human suffering means. He was a victim of Apartheid while growing up in Tegwani’s most impoverished tribe in South Africa.

This was a racist system that “translates to separateness in the Afrikaans language, and it made Africans of color aliens in their homeland. Millions were forced to live in impoverished townships, and they were denied the most basic human rights.
"Apartheid, under the white minority rule, held power over the entire population, imprisoned those who resisted the system; this made many South African blacks remain prisoners in their land for decades or even life,” said Stanley. 
The British ruled like this for 352 years. He grew-up where discrimination was the law.

At the age of fifteen, he said things had gotten so out of control that children were kidnapped, and gun violence killed others. It sounds like a hunt against Africans with innocent humans targeted like animals. Stanley says that growing up in South Africa, he lived in fear but could not show it, “it was a difficult experience which even wild animals could not endure.” During one of the most tragic and shameful racial segregation periods in all world history, he grew up.

In South Africa, he had access to American television and watched series such as Daniel Boone, Dallas, and Dynasty. His image of America was taken from these shows. (Here’s why some people think America is the “Golden Land” of opportunity.) He recalls when he received political asylum in the U.S. and landed in New York and San Diego in 1990. 

 “I was blown away, and everything impressed me, such as the shopping malls, movies, and concrete pools filled with blue water. I grew up in a village where thick bushes surrounded me; mosquitoes infected swamps, and muddy dirt roads were everywhere.”

A person in a wheelchair sits outside a 7-11
As a Housing Outreach Specialist, Stanley sees
needs everywhere. Photo by Stanley Machokoto

After three weeks in San Diego, Stanley was very depressed over the culture shock and language and communication difficulties. For those weeks, no one could understand what he was saying; it was extremely frustrating. But compared to his life in South Africa, he knew he wanted to stay. 

He found an entry-level job and saved several thousand dollars; he thought he was rich. Stanley came here at the age of twenty-eight but said his emotional intelligence was that of an eighteen-year-old. His upbringing, his culture and his childhood were stolen after witnessing the horrors in South Africa.

The cost of living took that money quickly, and he became homeless for a short time, and drank alcohol to ease his pain; he became addicted. 

After some minor infractions with the law, he said drug court was the best thing that happened. That process introduced him to church work through the required community service, and the pastor noticed him.

Stanley is a motivated, enthusiastic, kind man with a witty and beautiful sense of humor. The pastor offered him a job, and he said “yes” immediately, never asking what the salary was. Stanley was so thankful to be offered a job in a safe environment.

Stanley and Pastor Pam in their church robes.
Stanley is a lay leader at Prince of Peace Lutheran
Church assisting Pastor Pam Russell. He has a desk
at the church where he can meet with clients in need.
Photo courtesy Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.

And when the pastor handed him keys to the church and the office, he felt like he was so trusted, which raised his self-esteem; and help send him on a healthy path leading him to today’s critical social work. 

He decided to look to education to get out of poverty and received a bachelor’s degree and has finished one class towards a master’s in social work. 

He chooses social work because all his firsthand experiences allow him to empathize with those he serves. The trauma of human suffering stays with you forever, but Stanley never lives with regret or self-pity. 

He knows there is always someone worse off than him. One day he attended an addiction support meeting and was feeling upset about some pain in his legs, and then he saw a veteran who had lost both his feet in a war, and it humbled him immediately.

Stanley understands the many subtleties of cultural differences that can make a tremendous difference in relating well to other people. He says, “you have to understand and accept that others will think differently than you.” 
For instance, he says that having a thin body is desirable in American culture, but in Africa, people will think you are sickly and hungry if you are thin.

You cannot judge someone by their looks, which means nothing compared to who they are -and what cultural and social norms they are accustomed to - or hardships they have endured in their lives. It’s essential to understand the whole person in social work, and that appears to take a keen eye, a generous heart, and a massive amount of patience.

In his job as a Shoreline Housing Outreach Specialist with Lake City Partners, he gets referrals from various places including, city staff, the police, and fire departments. Someone may see a person living on the street and take a picture and send it to him, or a person sleeping somewhere gets reported to officials.

a smiling couple sit on the lawn
A moment of community enjoyment at a summer BBQ
 for those that are homeless. Photo courtesy of Lake City
Partners Ending Homelessness

Stanley’s work is to follow-up to discover how he can help someone exit homelessness or avoid a police confrontation that evening. 

He may have to let that person know where they can park their vehicle legally to sleep in it for the night safely. One woman recently served has physical disabilities and mental health disorders which are challenging cases to help. 

He has to build trust with that person first to assist her properly.

He has lots of support tools to assist him; to help people find shelter or housing, but he still finds he has to regularly make trips in his car because people in distress sometimes need hand-holding.

That is one reason he supports an enhanced shelter idea. He could be more efficient with his time and handle servicing more people in a day with the convenience of being together in one building. The job of any social worker is a very difficult one, but rewards come when success happens.

Stanley sees the injustices each day, and he’ll always remember his roots. After growing up in the turmoil of human injustices and oppression in Africa, and experiencing the prejudices in the U.S. too, at times he has sadly felt “that being Black is the worst thing that can happen to you.”

But he believes that “when the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned everywhere and replaced by basic human rights which will be equally guaranteed to all, then peace will prevail.”

Update: The story was written by Donna Hawkey. Her byline was inadvertently omitted when the story was republished.


Rev Jim October 26, 2020 at 1:57 PM  

What an excellent article on the work Stanley does in helpinig those experiencing homelessness. May he continue doing so well in working with his clients, gradually decreasing the need for his services. May God be with him on this journeye.

elizabeth October 26, 2020 at 3:22 PM  

Stanley is one of a kind. His perseverance and cheerful attitude serve our community well!

KHK October 26, 2020 at 10:31 PM  

Thank you for highlighting Stanley's life and work. I'm so moved by the way he has transformed the pain of his own trauma growing up under the scourge of apartheid into a commitment to compassionately reach out to people experiencing homelessness who have their own trauma histories.

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