Temperature restrictions at St. Pauls’ warming Center were lifted last month and the center is now open every night.
The decision came after the warming center staff expressed that restricting the shelter to operate on nights below 35 degrees would create confusion among the homeless community who typically don’t have access to thermometers. The uncertainty would also make it hard for the center to schedule security and paid staff.
The warming center at Visalia’s Episcopal Church has been operating nightly for over a month, serving nearly a hundred homeless on their busiest nights. There have been a few minor complaints from the area. But overall, the shelter has received a better reception than their first attempt in the winter of 2017.
Even some of the most outspoken members of the public who initially rallied against the warming center have recognized the improvements.
Dr. Wayne Wundrum is a local business owner in the area who had issues with homeless on his property in the past. He filed an appeal last year when the warming center announced its re-opening. However, after a month since the warming center’s most recent debut, Wundrum is happy to report the he has not experienced any serious issues.
“I’m happy so far that the church is following through with monitoring of the exterior of the church. As far as I can see, they are adhering to the conditions. And I haven’t had any issues, aside from some trash. I’m happy with the results of the conditions and especially with the security.”
Last December, concerned community members filed into City Hall to share concerns and personal grievances related to the warming center. Many of the complaints were about sanitation, trespassing, and loitering, but some of the more serious complaints stemmed from acts of crime that community members claimed came at the hands of homeless who stayed at the shelter. One local resident shared a heartbreaking story of his neighbor who was allegedly gunned down by a homeless man.
Needless to say, the church listened. Mistakes brewed wisdom, and a new set of conditions were designed at the city hall meeting to prevent anymore grievances from the community. Additional hours of security were added and the church was held liable for any trash or sanitation issues in the immediate block surrounding the warming center.
It seems the changes paid off.
Mary from Peter Perkins’ Flowers, a manager from another local business in the area, also stated that things have been a lot better this year. She expressed her surprise at the lack of homeless she has seen in the area and assumed the warming center must be receiving lower numbers.
But after speaking with the staff at the warming center, it turns out the numbers are just as high. Reverend Suzy Ward, the woman behind the church’s mass-sheltering operation, explained that despite a recent $30,000 grant from the state intended to pay security and staff, more volunteers and donations are still needed to make sure things run smoothly.
“Things like coffee, hot chocolate, creamer and sugar, those are things that constantly run out…But the biggest thing is just continuing to bring volunteers.”
The lack of manpower was most apparent during a busy night at the warming center, when an intoxicated individual began to butt heads with another homeless man. The altercation escalated, threatening to reach the point of physical violence. And with no security in sight, it seemed nothing was going to prevent it from happening. Fortunately, Ward courageously put herself between the two men and somehow managed to diffuse the situation.
The drunken individual left on peaceful terms and order was restored.
But where was security throughout all of this?
We later discovered that the security guard on duty was making their routine rounds around the warming center when the altercation occurred. It was evidence that one security guard may not be enough to patrol the grounds and keep an eye on the activity within the warming center, an issue that was brought up during the city hall meeting last year.
Although the issue is a valid one, Ward’s current budget can barely cover the salary of one security officer. And with money already from the state and the county earmarked, Ward will have to search for other resources like funding from the rotary club.
In the meantime, the warming center and the surrounding community will have to suffer the occasional hit caused by insufficient security. Hits like a busted car window and stolen laundry detergent reported by Cecilia Presley, 22, who lives directly in front of the warming center. It’s unclear whether or not the incident was caused by a homeless individual, but she claims nothing like this happened until the shelter arrived.
It’s worth mentioning that Presley believes what the church has done for the homeless is amazing. But recent events have made her wary of the community around the warming center and have put her on edge after dark.
But for every misstep suffered, there seem to be a dozen lives being saved: Mothers, couples, youth, even puppies find their way into Ward’s little church. But with two months left of operation, only time will tell if the good will outshine the bad this time around.
For questions about donations call Christy Bergen: (559) 356-9526 or Suzy Ward (559) 967-4065.