The Russian River’s winter homeless shelter reopens for a new season this week, offering free meals and a warm place to sleep on the floor of the Guerneville Veterans Hall.
“We’ll be ready Saturday night,” (December 1) said Danielle Danforth, housing and homeless services director for West County Community Services (WCCS), which runs the annual project.
The shelter has averaged about three dozen guests a night in past years — more when the weather turns wet or freezing cold.
“We had 57 one night last year,” the largest crowd of the season, said Danforth. But the nightly average has been steadily increasing, she said.
“Every year it goes up,” said Danforth. “We don’t turn people away if we can help it.”
The county-funded homeless project is budgeted for 40 people per night through March 31, but there is flexibility to accommodate larger crowds. This year’s budget of approximately $140,000 includes $27,000 to rent the Vets Hall, said WCCS Executive Director Tim Miller.
Volunteer help and donations are also crucial to keep the shelter going, with volunteer cooks and donors providing hot meals served every night, said Miller. West County Community Services director Debra Johnson is again lining up the nightly meal schedule for the shelter’s four-month duration. “She’s got it [the line-up] about two-thirds filled,” said Miller.
Shelter tenants check in each night from 5 to 7 p.m. Showers are available in the Vets Hall restrooms and donated clean clothes and hygiene items such as soap and toothpaste are available.
Cash donations are welcome for the shelter programs, and clean towels would be helpful, but used clothing is not needed, except for clean socks and warm one-size-fits-all clothing such as sweat shirts and sweat pants, said Miller. Hygienic items including soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes are also welcome and can be dropped off at the vets hall on First Street every evening between 5 and 7 p.m. when the shelter is open.
The shelter’s manager this year is Pat Jones, who ran the shelter last year and who’s also one of the volunteers, with her husband, Richard Jones, who run the weekly free homeless services “clean day” every Thursday in the vets hall, sponsored by Sonoma County Vet Connect.
Jones coordinates three or four aides in two nightly shifts for the four months the shelter is open, said a WCCS website rundown of the winter shelter operation.
“About half of the approximately 300 homeless people in the lower river area will spend some of their wet winter nights at the shelter,” said WCCS.
At the WCCS Guerneville office on Main Street pre-registration was under way this week. Clients agree to behavioral guidelines, e.g.
“No behavior is allowed that disturbs others,“ said a WCCS website shelter guide. “Guests must behave respectfully towards their fellows or they are asked to leave.”
There’s a fenced backyard where guests can smoke, etc., until 10 pm. After 10 p.m. even that door is closed until 6 a.m.
Before the WCCS shelter operation opened in the Vets Hall it was housed for several years in Guerneville at St. Hubert’s Hall, the facility owned by the Catholic Church on Fourth Street. Prior to that Guerneville had no shelter except for a temporary shelter set up on River Road in the early 1990s. That winter shelter was opened
by River Community Services, the non-profit that evolved into WCCS, and sometimes housed two dozen people a night in three portable contractor sheds hooked up to an emergency power pole for heating and lighting. The shelter continued for five years until the Russian River flood of 1995 when the river washed the trailers down to Jenner.
The current Guerneville shelter has almost become a local holiday tradition along with the annual Parade of Lights that is, coincidentally, scheduled this Saturday night, December 1.