RANDY PENCH / rpench@sacbee.com

Homeless erected more than 40 tents near an American River levee in Sacramento earlier this year.

Sacramento area's rotating shelter program for homeless needs $75,000

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 - 9:24 am

Homeless men and women once again are spending chilly nights inside Sacramento area churches and other houses of worship this winter, but the project is threatened by a funding shortfall, officials said Tuesday.

For the second straight year, the "nomadic shelter" program is offering a warm place to sleep for as many as 100 homeless people each night in rotating houses of worship in the region. Guests spend the night in church dining halls, community centers and gyms and get dinner and breakfast the next morning.

Volunteers of America, which is sponsoring the program along with Sacramento Steps Forward, needs about $148,000 to run it through March, said spokeswoman Christie Holderegger. Organizers are $75,000 short in donations for VOA staffing, transportation and other necessities, she said.

"Unfortunately, we will have to close at the end of January or the beginning of February unless the money is there," said Holderegger. She said VOA lost about $20,000 on the effort last year.

The program is part of a mosaic of services designed to house Sacramento's homeless in the face of steep countywide budget cuts. In addition to the nomadic program, the county this winter kicked in $150,000 and the city $100,000 for motel vouchers and family shelter beds.

All told, the efforts are providing housing for more than 200 people, officials said. Still, some have been unable to secure shelter.

"Everything is full," said Carolyn Brodt, executive director of the Sacramento Area Emergency Housing Center, which is helping to find beds for families with children as well as disabled and elderly people. "Demand for housing and shelter services far exceeds the capacity. That's just a sad fact in Sacramento."

In extreme weather conditions, winter shelter operators will set up cots to accommodate more people, she said. Several of her agency's clients are very frail, said Brodt. One is undergoing chemotherapy. Others use wheelchairs.

"Everyone is doing their best, but every nonprofit that provides services to the homeless is stretched to capacity," she said. "There is no money and extreme demand. Obviously we have a big problem."

The county lost federal funding this year that targeted people in danger of becoming homeless, which may have swelled the ranks of people without shelter this winter, Brodt noted. Holderegger said the nomadic sanctuary program is hosting more younger people who recently lost jobs and housing.

"I'm meeting young people in their 20s and 30s who look very put-together. They could be someone walking around at the mall," she said.

In addition to being short on funds, the sanctuary program has only 18 faith communities participating this winter, six fewer than last year, Holderegger said. Most dropped out because they found it difficult to accommodate as many as 100 people at a time, she said. "We have six days open this month" in which no churches have stepped up to house guests, she said.

The program also needs a bus to transport people to and from a warehouse near the downtown Loaves & Fishes homeless complex to various churches. With just two 25-passenger buses, "it sometimes takes two hours to get folks to churches" in outlying areas, said Holderegger.

Faith communities interested in hosting homeless people and donors wanting to contribute to the program should contact Volunteers of America by phone or visit wintersanctuary.org. The agency also is collecting warm gloves, scarves, socks and hats for homeless adults.

Capital Christian Center near Highway 50 and Bradshaw Road participated in the sanctuary program last year and will do so again this winter, said senior pastor Rick Cole. The church and its congregation plan to welcome guests during Christmas week with a tree, decorations and other goodies, he said.

"Everything worked wonderfully well for us last year," Cole said. "We didn't have any problems at all, and it was very rewarding for everyone who participated.

"This program illustrates the core message of what Jesus taught, that we must help the poor, help those in need," the pastor said. "It gets us back to a place where we should have been all along."

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