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.
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.