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.

pic of Shellee

Shellee, with a big heart, a big smile, and a very big pres­ence.

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.

pic of emergency shelter staff

Emer­gency Shel­ter staff in their final meet­ing for the win­ter sea­son

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.

pic of volunteer Jeannine

Jean­nine, a vol­un­teer, serves up lasagna

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.

pic of Joannie, staff at E.S

Joani, help­ing with the work