By Christopher Oak Reinier
Dannielle Danforth, WCCS Director of Housing and Behavioral Health Services, has established and overseen the operation of the Emergency Homeless Shelter in Guerneville for the past two years. Located in the Guerneville Vets Building, the shelter has been open from the end of November to the end of March. It closed last month.
As the Director, Dannielle coordinates the work that goes into providing the staffing − 4 to 6 staff per 14 hour night 7 nights a week for 4 months –the beds, bed coverings, volunteers for evening meals and laundering clothing, visits by out-reach social workers, policing and peace keeping, record-keeping, and so on. Shellee, who managed the Shelter night after night set the tone for the work with her sweet and loving care but take-no-nonsense attitude.
Dannielle is very much aware how the issues of the homeless impact the community as a whole, and she observes, “When the people are in the Shelter, they are not out in the community causing problems.” It’s estimated there are about 300 homeless in the West County area. Between 130 to 150 visited the shelter during this last four month period, averaging about 35 individuals each night. Dannielle has not seen evidence that the existence of the Shelter has been a magnet drawing the homeless to Guerneville.
Visitors to the Shelter are asked to fill out a 7 page registration form, which indicates whether they are eligible for the services. It records their family relationships, their medical history, legal status, and so on. They don’t have to fill out the form, but over the last two years only one refused, and later even he filled it out. Contrary to misconstrued stories, although Dannielle’s staff has had to deal with minor altercations, none have ever been assaulted, and 100% of her staff wanted to return this year to manage the Shelter again.
The Shelter has been funded primarily by the County’s Community Development Commission, with contributions from Sonoma West Hospital for bedding and food. St. Joseph’s Hospital-Santa Rosa has provided funds for out-reach workers and paid the bill for hospital or hotel rooms for sick individuals, as when one person was taking chemo, and another had pneumonia, possibly saving lives. West County Medical Center sent visiting nurses twice a week to review the health of the residents, and offer care when needed. Remarkable volunteers from the community provided hot meals every evening, and other amenities.
The homeless are not a happy group of people. Few of them choose to be homeless. The Shelter offers only temporary protection in a grim existence. But the occupants respect the Shelter for what it does offer: food, warmth, a bed, protection from dangerous weather and social conditions, attention to their needs. Their association through the Shelter with WCCS and its services has often led to an improved way of life.