Winter shelters open for homeless

Shelters for homeless individuals and families in the City of Davis opened for the cold-weather season beginning mid-November.

The Davis Community Meals winter shelter at 512 Fifth St. opened Nov. 12 and will close March 31. The Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter at various host sites opened Sunday and will continue until March 16. Additionally, Fourth and Hope at 207 Fourth St. in Woodland is open year-round.

“Davis Community Meals’ mission is to provide low-income and homeless individuals and families with housing, food and human services to help them rebuild their lives,” according to a Davis Community Meals description document.

Davis Community Meals Executive Director Bill Pride said the shelter began in 1990 when a recession was occurring and there were homeless individuals who were becoming more noticeable around the city. Pride said people from faith groups and people from non-faith groups wanted to address the issue and started a soup kitchen in February 1991.

“Once that program started, it’s expanded since to providing meals three days a week,” Pride said. “Within a year, they started the first cold weather shelter in town.”

The shelter is funded largely by state and local federal funding, although a good portion of funds are donations from local individuals, businesses, churches and other people.

The Davis Community Meals cold weather shelter can provide shelter to 10 homeless individuals: eight men and two women.

Pride said the reason the shelter accommodates more males is that the homeless population is predominantly male. He said that every couple of years they conduct a homeless count in Davis, which is generally between 110 and 120 people. The count includes those on the streets, in shelters and in transitional housing.

According to Pride, there are three forms of housing for the homeless: shelters, in which people stay a night and leave the next day; transitional housing, a middle ground between shelters and having a rental house; and affordable rental housing.

“[Transitional housing is] basically a program where you can stay a determined length of time and during that time, you basically receive services to help address the root causes of you being homeless,” Pride said. “We’ve got staff, social workers and some mental health counselors who work with the folks who come in through the programs to help them figure out a way to address those problems, become self-sufficient in some shape or form and find some housing they can afford and move in there.”

According to a 2011 fact sheet, Davis Community Meals was able to provide 6,625 meals to 495 unique low-income and homeless men, women and children.

The shelter provides free meals, an emergency shelter and a transitional housing program year-round. There is also a resource center at 1111 H St. that provides showers, hygiene products, laundry facilities, telephones, a computer room and other services for the homeless.
Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter (IRWS) Board Co-chair Mary Anne Kirsch said the program was started by a small group in 2007. This will be their sixth season of providing shelters to the homeless.

Kirsch said those who want to take shelter need to go to their intake center, Davis Friends Meetinghouse at 345 L St., between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.

“We evaluate their behavior and ask simple questions for basic information,” Kirsch said. “Each time they come to seek shelter for a night, we evaluate them again.”

There are eight host sites — churches and congregations throughout the city — that have volunteered to be shelters. Host sites this year are the Davis Community Church, Davis United Methodist, St. James Catholic Church, Unitarian Universalist Church, Davis Lutheran Church, Davis First Baptist Church, University Covenant Church and Congregation Bet Haverim. Each site can host either 25 or 50 people.

The first week is at the Davis Community Church. Kirsch said the way the shelters operate is volunteer drivers pick up the guests who seek shelter and they drive them to the respective church or congregation that is hosting.

Upon arrival, each guest is required to sign an agreement form that states he or she will follow a set of rules. Each rule has a consequence if broken.

“They’re not allowed to bring alcohol; if they do bring it and we know they brought it, they have to leave and can’t come back for three weeks,” Kirsch said.

In addition, the IRWS made an agreement with Davis Community Meals to maintain consistency within shelters. Both shelters have the same consequences if there are any fights, arguments, swearing or alcohol or drugs. Kirsch said that a guest is banned from all shelters in the city if found breaking any of the rules.

Before dinner, trained UC Davis interns distribute sleeping bags and show the guests cots they can sleep on, Kirsch said. Every person has a numbered sleeping bag that they’ll use every time. She also said guests are required to sign up for a chore and clean up every morning before they leave.

At 5:30 p.m., volunteers and guests eat dinner together. Afterward, there is hospitality time in which people can sit and talk, watch a movie, play games, read books and other activities.

“Lights are out at 10 and we wake them up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready to go,” Kirsch said. “They have to do their chores and they have coffee. Sometimes we have bag lunches they can take with them.”

At 6:15 or 6:30 a.m., people from the Mormon church pick up the guests and drop them off at the resource center or at Jack in the Box, since not many places are open that early in the morning, said Kirsch.

“This year, we have a conditional-use permit — we don’t have to pay the city to do it [hold shelters] anymore,” she said. “The city cooperates with us by having the fire marshal check out the site for safety.”

Once the IRWS is done at one church, a U-Haul is rented to transport the cots, sleeping bags and boxes of supplies to the next site.
Kirsch said the IRWS runs completely on donations.

“Year after year, the different churches and community organizations have really come through for us,” Kirsch said. “We do all of our organization, insurance, U-Haul and buying sleeping bags for about $8,000 a year.”

Pride said he expects to see 1,900 to 2,000 homeless people this year, including those in shelters and transitional housing and those using their resource center. Kirsch said in an email that historically they’ve served about 100 guests over a course of a season.

In the case of volunteers, Pride said on a regular basis, there are about 100 to 125 volunteers. He said overall there are usually about 1,000 volunteers.

“We get a lot of student groups, fraternities, sororities, high school students, local service organizations and church groups,” Pride said.

Likewise, Kirsch said they have about 1,000 volunteers each year, such as Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and high school groups. Currently, they have 23 UC Davis interns and 8 high school interns. The IRWS is still looking for volunteers, who can sign up through www.interfaith-shelter.org.

“One thing that has happened in the last few years, which I think is a noticeable change, is the population’s gotten a lot younger,” Pride said. “It’s still mostly male, but the age is going down markedly.”

Pride said they see a fair number of students, both undergraduate and graduate, who go to their resource center. Occasionally, they see homeless students who can’t pay for rent.

“I think that every person has a dignity and I just don’t think it’s right for people to be out on the sidewalks when it’s rainy and cold,” Kirsch said. “They should have a place to stay when it’s bad outside.”

CLAIRE TAN can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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