Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bed Stress now, and in chilly seasons past

The winter-shelter effort has everything to do with having places for people to sleep during cold or wet weather.

I wrote the sentence, above, knowing it doesn't sound profound (It isn't.), but just to 'put out there' that the goal seems simple. And that whatever variety of things are done to serve the goal of simply giving adequate 'shelter from the storm' [as the banner had read at Overflow] is good. Or so you would think.

This year, to what seems its great discredit, the county slashed homeless safety-net services, including funding for Overflow at Cal Expo. Likely, the politicians and officials knew there was other money that would flow in to take the place of some of the 'lost' county money [from stimulous funds, the city, and elsewhere] and that being more economical [Overflow was complicated and expensive] things would work out

But it's an addling roller coaster ride, going from no money for winter shelter; to a feeling that the Winter Shelter Task Force performed a miracle [$500,000 found! 269 beds!]; to problems in November [205 of the 269 beds are uninhabitable or not secured!?!]; to our circumstance, now, one-third of the way through the chilly season [which lasts roughly from mid-autumn till the first day of spring], where beds are 'out there,' but not in the same fair, available-on-the-fly way as in chilly seasons past.

To my mind, the Winter Shelter Task Force should have gotten a big warehouse proximate to Loaves & Fishes, put 200 or 250 beds in it; and heaters, of course; put port-a-potties outside; served a simple Overflow-style dinner and breakfast; and that would've been pretty much it. In by 8pm; sleep from 9:30-to-6; out by 6:30am. Simple. Basic. One stop serves all. People would know where to go, what to do. The shelter [like Overflow had been] would've been substandard as compared to the waiting-list shelters, would have been cheap, befitting our economic times, and [unlike Overflow] wouldn't have, effectively, imprisoned people for 16+ hours a day.

In my vision of the perfect (but, admittedly, terrible) warehouse winter shelter, the government wouldn't have accommodated couples sleeping together. It wouldn't have been an ersatz hotel, with honeymoon accommodations, and André's chocolates on the feather pillows for the select, specially treated. [Couples can have still slept together on warm winter nights in two sleeping bags zipped together, or used some of their SSI money for a night at Motel 6.]

IMHO, Winter shelter should just be about combatting the cold-weather emergency, not about reconfiguring homeless culture, somehow. You want to improve accommodations for the homeless, generally? I'm all for it. But winter shelter is about life and death -- or ought to be. There is an unconfirmed report that a homeless man died downtown from exposure during that three-day stretch of mid-twenty-degree nights. Certainly, many downtown homeless people got 'caught' in the sudden freeze and suffered when the winter-shelter effort wasn't up to speed, getting them to warming centers. Helping the downtown homeless who sleep in their day clothes and (many) suffer from mental illnesses be warm is a task of the winter shelter ad hoc committee; getting homeless men nookie, or, even, keeping loving couples together, shouldn't be on the committee's to-do list.  [Yeah, yeah, I'm mocking the Overflow couples suites of last winter AND the problems of motels/hotels this year, which I'll get into in a future post.]

In retrospect, my warehouse vision of winter shelter would have been the way to go.

Instead, now, near the first day of winter, cold homeless people without accommodations have a lot of options, but not quick access to a bed when needed.  Below is my speedy html copy [with links added] of a chart of what there is, as provided by Tim Brown of Sacramento Steps Forward:

Program
Planned Beds
Beds (as of 11-20)
Beds (as of 11-24)
Beds (as of 12-10)
Beds
(as of 12-15)
Target Populations
SAEHC
12
0
0
12
12
Families [See Dec. 14 article in the Bee.]
Salvation Army
20
20
20
20
20
Single Women
VOA - Former detox space
32
32
32
32
32
Single Men
Mather
102
0
0
0
0    [OK from county on 12/15 for effort to make units available, some by Jan 1.] [See article in Bee today.]
Families in 34 bungalows
Motel Vouchers
100
0
30
84
100
Chronically Homeless, Special Needs, Families
Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program [HPRP]
100
16
16
32
32
[Stimulus money]
VOA - Readiness
50
0
0
0
50?
Single Men and Women
Totals
316
52
82
180
196 - 246


Of course, it is excellent that all these means of accommodating homeless people have 'come online.'  Props to the Winter Shelter Task Force and/or Sacramento Steps Forward committee for their effort to 'find' beds for the winter [and some beyond winter] for homeless people.

At present, I don't ably understand all that's listed here.

I have heard that motel [and hotel!] voucher placements have been discontinued, except to replace people who leave early.  Getting on the list for a 'replacement' bed is difficult and uncertain.  I also don't yet know if the safe ground beds at Hawthorn Suites are included in the 100 count of motels beds.  I do know that more people than just safe gound folks are staying at the Hawthorn hotel, but approximately 22 beds for the safe grounders were supposed to be part of a separate budget line, perhaps not overseen by the winter shelter task force.

The Salvation Army and former-detox beds require being on a waiting list for an indetermanent span of time.  You have to qualify for Rapid Re-Housing or the VOA-Readiness Program.

Re Rapid Re-Housing:  Many people will qualify, using services they receive, to prevent their becoming homeless.  This category on the chart isn't "winter shelter," and, for many, they never become homeless.  The counting of beds made available by the winter shelter committee is an inexact science; inclusion of these beds may be a mattress bridge too far.  [I note that this category is only included in the TOTAL count for the 12-15 column.  Hmmm.]

All the beds on the chart are good beds that take the stress off the need out in Homeless World.  The problem is one for people who find themselves without a bed and have a big obstacle finding one and securing it.  And finding one in the cool, cool, cold of a winter's evening, no less.

More more more on winter shelter beds in future posts in the days to come.

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