County opens winter homeless warming shelter

Also, a family shelter will house up to 25 families, who will pay 30 percent of their income in rent

The San Benito County Warming Shelter at 3235 Southside Rd. opened Saturday, Dec. 3, to provide housing for 40 homeless individuals, according to Enrique Arreola, deputy director of San Benito County Health and Human Services’ Community Services and Workforce Development.

Arreola said the department’s family shelter, which is adjacent to the warming shelter, also just opened and families began moving in Dec. 1. Single homeless clients who accept the help will be transported from various locations around Hollister and arrive at the warming shelter around 5 p.m. While the families can stay at the family shelter through the winter until March 31, 2017, the single clients staying at the warming shelter can only stay overnight a day at a time. They will receive two hot meals and a sack lunch before being transported back downtown. They also will be provided showers and lockers.

Arreola said his department took over the operation of the warming shelter after the Homeless Coalition declared it could no longer do so.

“Last year, because of the increased need, and especially with the anticipated rains, the county decided to open it,” he said. “This year, we feel committed to doing it again because there’s no other provider at the moment. Hopefully, next year when the shelter opens we can have an operator to take care of it.”

He said the warming shelter has 10 rooms with four beds each. The family shelter will be housing 25 homeless families in two and three-bedroom units. He said that while the family shelter consists of 67 cabins, the department is only serving 25 families because of costs. Some families began arriving Dec. 1 and the rest are expected to arrive Monday, Dec. 5.

“It’s like their homes,” Arreola said. “We follow a transitional shelter model, where they pay rent, 30 percent of their income, and a security deposit that is held in an account. At the conclusion of the program, it is returned to them. The goal is they can use it for a security deposit or move-in costs for another location.”

Arreola related that some of the homeless families have come to the shelter often through heartbreaking circumstances. He told of single mother with three children who were living in a storage shed.

“She was staying there in the cold winter and she came in the office because somebody had referred her,” he said, “and at 4 p.m. we had one extra hotel room. We managed to get her into the hotel that night and the next day she was moved into the shelter.”

Arreola also told the story of a husband and wife with eight children who were sleeping in a van.

“We managed to help them,” he said. “This year, we have several people who were sleeping in their vehicles and now they’re at the shelter. Others might be sleeping in someone’s garage or a relative took them in temporarily. There are a lot of stories and it’s just sad to see what people are going through, and most people aren’t even aware of it.”

There is no cost to those staying in the warming shelter, he said.

“Every client will go through some level of assessment to see what their needs are to try to lead them to different services,” he said. “We will be having some providers doing presentations and referrals. They’ll get a hot meal at dinner, a continental-style breakfast, and a packed sandwich for lunch.”

Each client must check in every day. Their bags will be inspected and any unapproved items, such as drugs, alcohol or weapons, will be confiscated. Full-time security personnel from First Alarm will monitor them each hour through the duration of the program.

“This is different than what was done by the Homeless Coalition,” he said. “We felt it was important to have security throughout the night.”

Because this is the first year that Arreola's department is operating the warming shelter, they are working with the Farm Labor Association, which will be providing the meals. He said there are also a number of community organizations that have offered to provide meals on weekends.

“We’ve been getting calls from organizations that have been doing this for years with the Homeless Coalition,” he said. “We wanted to continue honoring that, but we felt there was a good partnership with the Farm Labor Association because they have a kitchen, while our role is to manage the shelter.”

The cost of the program is approximately $230,000, according to Arreola.

“It’s funded through different state grants and other sources, one of which is a $25,000 grant from the City of Hollister,” he said. “Security from beginning to end is costly, along with meal services. There’s cleaning services and the staff we have to hire for both shifts. It’s a well-organized program, and now we just need to do our best.”

Pickup locations and times: Straw Hat Pizza, 4:30 p.m.; West and Third streets, 4:45 p.m., My Father’s House at Monterey and Hawkins streets, 5 p.m., and Dunne Park, 5:10 p.m. For information, call: 831-256-1852.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]