Homeless advocates seek funding for year-round shelter program

Published: Thursday, Sep. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am

Sacramento County’s nomadic “sanctuary” shelter program, which allows homeless men and women to spend chilly winter nights inside a rotating selection of houses of worship, will be open throughout the year if advocates can raise enough funds to sustain it, officials said this week.

Religious leaders, along with the nonprofit Sacramento Steps Forward and city and county officials, have launched a campaign to raise at least $250,000 for the sanctuary effort and other programs to serve the homeless in the coming year. The campaign will officially kick off next week with a plea for residents in the Sacramento region to donate one day’s worth of monthly rent or mortgage for programs to house, feed and provide job training for homeless people. Someone with a monthly payment of $1,200, for example, would be asked to contribute $40 to the effort.

In addition to the sanctuary program, funds raised this year would go toward permanent housing for homeless people and families, as well as training and job placement, organizers said.

Two area faith groups, the Sacramento Church Volunteer Network and William Jessup University’s ACTS initiative, will lead the effort to raise money through churches, synagogues and other houses of worship, said Keith Hart, development director for Sacramento Steps Forward.

“We’re asking them to promote the campaign and bring it to their congregations,” Hart said.

Coordinators are seeking religious organizations interested in hosting homeless people, as well as donations from the public and businesses.

The campaign is designed to raise money for a constellation of services designed to shelter Sacramento’s homeless people in the face of countywide budget cuts in recent years.

Until 2010, the county spent as much as $700,000 for winter housing at Cal Expo. In recent years it has kicked in $150,000 to pay for shelter beds for families while turning over responsibility for most homeless programs to Sacramento Steps Forward, which coordinates a network of homeless services across the region. That group has reached out to nonprofit groups, religious congregations and others to make up for the lost funding. It also manages private and public grant funding for homeless programs.

In its most recent “snapshot” census, conducted on a January night this year, the organization found 2,538 people living in Sacramento County without permanent housing. That was about an 8percent increase from the last census, conducted in 2011.

The nomadic shelter program, launched in the winter of 2010, has offered a warm place to sleep for as many as 100 homeless people each night in houses of worship across Sacramento County. Guests get dinner and spend the night in church dining halls, community centers and gyms, and have breakfast the next morning. In recent years, as many as two dozen congregations have rotated the responsibility of housing homeless guests.

While generally viewed as a success, the program has been threatened by funding shortfalls and logistical glitches, including difficulties in transporting as many as 100 homeless people to and from their sleeping quarters each night.

Volunteers of America, the lead sponsor of the program in past years, will play a lesser role this year, said spokeswoman Christie Holderegger. VOA in past years has screened homeless guests for mental stability, and alcohol and drug issues, coordinated transportation from Sacramento’s downtown Loaves & Fishes homeless complex to participating houses of worship, and provided security monitors. This year, they’ve agreed to train new coordinators and their volunteers in those areas, said Holderegger.

“It’s a great program,” she said. “But it was challenging for us to try to fill the funding gap in our other programs while trying to raise money for sanctuary. If we did it again, we would need more resources for staffing.”

Holderegger estimated the cost at about $11 per person per day, or around $140,000 for the winter. The county once again will provide $150,000 toward winter shelter beds, including $75,000 to the Salvation Army, said spokeswoman Chris Andis.

For more information about the fundraising campaign or to donate online, go to sacramentostepsforward.org or mail checks to Sacramento Steps Forward, Attention Give One Day, 1331 Garden Highway, Suite 100, Sacramento, 95833.

Call The Bee’s Cynthia Hubert, (916)321-1082. Follow her on Twitter @Cynthia_Hubert

Read more articles by Cynthia Hubert

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