Shellee Barr

Shellee Barr, Emergency Shelter Manager

The Emergency Shelter Is Opening December 1st.

By Christopher Oak Reinier

It’s easy to forget the time when years ago the budget-shrinking State closed State hospitals and caretaking facilities and threw many emotionally and mentally troubled individuals onto the streets of California counties, towns and cities.  Local governments have had to cobble money together from the State and from local taxes and private donations, with generous volunteer donations and efforts in order to offer these individuals some support.

Tim Miller, Executive Director of West County Community Services (WCCS), recently obtained final approval from the Sonoma County Board of Directors for funding of more than $100,000 to support most of the costs for opening and maintaining an Emergency Winter Shelter in Guerneville this year.

Dannielle Danforth, Director of Housing and Behavioral Health Services at West County Community Services (WCCS), has taken charge of providing a bed for up to 50 people each night during the wet and cold weather, December through March, in the Veterans Building in Guerneville. Last year the Shelter averaged 30 visitors each night. It will be open from 5 PM to 7 AM every day from December 1st to March 1st. About twenty individuals — members of the WCCS Board of Directors, WCCS staff, and community volunteers — met last week to finalize the plans Dannielle has organized for the opening of the Shelter.

To meet the basic needs, the county-wide Task Force for the Homeless and many local community members have provided almost 100 sleeping bags.  Sonoma West Medical Center has contributed funding for 50 foam mats to lay beneath the bags. WCCS Board Director, Debra Johnson, is managing the huge project of scheduling  volunteer crews of three or four individuals from the local community to provide meals each evening. “This is in addition to a million other things she is doing”, according to Dannielle, “like drumming up towel donations for showers, hygiene items and putting them in ditty bags, getting the shelves built in one of the storage containers”, making it possible for visitors to take a shower. With the extra clothing being donated by the local community, individuals using the Shelter can have their clothes laundered or, if necessary, replaced. St Joseph Hospital in Santa Rosa, has provided WCCS with the funds for mesh laundry bags used to organize and wash clothing without mixing one person’s with another’s.

Executive Director Miller has also found support from St.Joseph Hospital that will make it possible for the Emergency Shelter to provide help beyond these basic needs. St.Joseph has generously offered funding to pay for an outreach person 42 hours a week to help those in need manage their lives by providing information, referrals and interventions. The West County Health Center is also providing twice weekly visits to the Emergency Shelter from a Registered Nurse and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker to assist individuals who have special physical or mental health needs.  All of it intended, not just to help these people survive the cold and the rain, but to put them, if at all possible, on a path to a better and self-sufficient life.

The Shelter will be managed by Shellee Barr, whose light physical stature is compensated for by her big personal presence. The Shelter is a behavioral based center. Shellee enforces one controlling rule, Respect Each Other, and the Shelter is a peaceful place where one can find safety from the dark and sometimes violent world outside. Shellee and the rest of the responsible crew are assisted by the fact that most of the individuals using the facility are supportive and protective of those who are making it possible.

Last winter, about 150 individuals found a night’s rest, some warm soup, maybe a shower, and clean clothes at the Emergency Shelter.  It can be expected to offer as much and more to, at least, that many people this coming winter. More volunteer help is needed and will be greatly appreciated. And there is a need for more sleeping bags. Donations can be brought to the West County Community Services office in the old Bank of America building at 16390 Main Street, Guerneville. For information about volunteering please call WCCS at 823-1640 ext.115.  Thank You