By Christo­pher Oak Reinier

Dan­nielle Dan­forth, Direc­tor of Hous­ing and Home­less Ser­vices for West Coun­ty Com­mu­ni­ty Ser­vices, opened the Emer­gency Shel­ter for the home­less at the Vet­er­ans Hall in Guerneville on Sat­ur­day, Decem­ber 2.

Pic of Pat Jones, Emergency Shelter Manager

Pat Jones brings good cheer and com­pas­sion­ate man­age­ment to the Emer­gency Shel­ter

Dan­nielle has giv­en dai­ly man­age­ment of the shel­ter to Pat Jones, who has had con­sid­er­able expe­ri­ence work­ing with the home­less. Pat has worked with the “Sam Jones” Home­less Shel­ter in San­ta Rosa run by Catholic Char­i­ties. She has been man­ag­ing the show­er­ing and laun­der­ing “Clean Day” for the Vet Con­nec­tion in Guerneville. She knows the peo­ple and has hired two expe­ri­enced super­vi­sors who will coor­di­nate three or four aides in each of two night­ly shifts for the four months the Shel­ter will be open.

About half of the approx­i­mate­ly 300 home­less peo­ple in the low­er riv­er area will spend some of their wet win­ter nights at the Shel­ter. It aver­ages about 30 indi­vid­u­als a night, some­times as many as 50, offer­ing Shel­ter to about 150 dif­fer­ent peo­ple over the course of the win­ter. When the home­less vis­it the shel­ter they are asked to fill out an infor­ma­tion­al form about them­selves. The result­ing data helps Dan­nielle keep track of what is hap­pen­ing with many oth­er­wise lost souls.

The Shelter’s door opens each evening from 5 to 7 pm, after which the door is closed. When a guest enters, he or she must sign in. After they sign in, they are not allowed to leave the Shel­ter and then return again. If they leave after sign­ing in, they are out for the night.

Guests are assigned a stor­age bin and giv­en blankets/sleeping bags, and a floor mat.  If they haven’t done so already, they fill-out the infor­ma­tion­al sheet iden­ti­fy­ing who they are.They can show­er if they want to, obtain clean clothes which have been donat­ed, and eat a hearty meal served each evening by com­mu­ni­ty vol­un­teers.  The Shel­ter has a fenced back­yard to which the guests can exit to smoke, etc, and come back in until 10 pm.  After 10 pm even that door is closed until 6 am.

No smok­ing is per­mit­ted, except in the back­yard. No behav­ior is allowed that dis­turbs oth­ers. Guests must behave respect­ful­ly towards their fel­lows or they are asked to leave. Dan­nielle sets the tone for how the staff man­ages the Shel­ter. “If there is a prob­lem, it’s not the per­son that is the prob­lem. It’s the behav­ior. We address the behav­ior. They need to be respect­ful of each oth­er and the place.” And the Shel­ter is usu­al­ly a qui­et and peace­ful place, respect­ed because it is a safe haven from hard nights.

But the meals! Warm and hearty. Pur­chased and pre­pared by crews of two or three vol­un­teer mem­bers of the west coun­ty com­mu­ni­ty for 120 nights. Vol­un­teers com­mit to one night a month for four months. Many do more than one night each month. These great crews are evi­dence of some seri­ous love in the west coun­ty com­mu­ni­ty. Board mem­ber Debra John­son recruits and orga­nizes the kitchen crews.

In addi­tion to the food ser­vice, com­mu­ni­ty vol­un­teers help with laun­dry ser­vices and donate cloth­ing and oth­er per­son­al neces­si­ties for the Shelter’s guests. The Sono­ma Coun­ty Com­mu­ni­ty Devel­op­ment Com­mis­sion with HUD fund­ing pro­vides most of the mon­ey to sup­port the Shel­ter.  Some Fed­er­al fund­ing is also con­tributed through the Unit­ed Way. St. Josephs of San­ta Rosa has fund­ed an out­reach work­er in the past who pro­vid­ed assis­tance to needy indi­vid­u­als dur­ing the day and has pro­vid­ed mon­ey to secure hos­pi­tal rooms for seri­ous­ly ill indi­vid­u­als.  Palm Dri­ve Health Care Dis­trict has pro­vid­ed sleep­ing mats.

The Emer­gency Shel­ter is a wide­ly sup­port­ed com­mu­ni­ty effort to save the health and lives of an oth­er­wise vul­ner­a­ble at-risk pop­u­la­tion.