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Davis

Davis, California

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Yolo County homeless shelter and outreach aids homeless community through pandemic

Organizations share their impact on the Davis and Yolo County homeless communities

While today’s “new normal” continues to change many aspects of life, issues like homelessness have remained present amid the difficulties of a pandemic. With rising health concerns, leaders in Yolo County continue to adjust in order to provide resources for the homeless community. 

Under normal circumstances, the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter (IRWS) in Davis provides the homeless community with shelter and a home-cooked meal. This involves a process of intake, transportation and arrival at the host site. A distribution of dinner follows before the guests go to sleep and are transported back to a drop-off site in the morning. 

Linda Scott, a long-time member of the IRWS board, described the moments of kindness that took place with the homeless community in the shelter. 

“Occasionally, when the weather was really bad, when we went from a large site to a small site, we would have to do a lottery for who could sign up for the smaller site,” Scott said. “But what happened is that our guests were very kind to their fellow guests. Somebody would say, ‘Well, he’s really sick, I’ll let him have my place.’ Women virtually always had somebody give them a place to stay if there was no room.”

Due to COVID-19, these services have been halted and replaced with alternative housing options. IRWS applied for and received a government grant to rent apartments that will house the homeless community. Scott stated that they are specifically serving the most vulnerable population, which is made up of people over 60 and people with underlying medical conditions.

Scott shared how the decrease in college students in Davis left more room to help people get off the streets and into apartments. 

“Because so many students are not on campus this fall due to COVID, there are actually available apartments in Davis,” Scott said. “And a really wonderful apartment building owner agreed to rent 25 two-bedroom apartments at a reduced cost. We also got donations of furniture and things that you need in the apartment, and then with the grant money got the rest of the things that everyone needs.”

Two of these apartments are being used as offices, but the remaining 23 apartments can house 46 people. Scott reflected on the power of the service and IRWS’s hopes for the future. 

“It gives them a place to be inside and away from COVID, out of the cold and to live basically a normal life,” Scott said. “Originally, we got the apartments through March, and we’re applying for another grant to have the apartments till the end of July, which is when the owner wants them back. Our goal is to hopefully get housing vouchers for the people who are in the apartments so that they can move into permanent housing.”

Fourth & Hope in Woodland has continued to provide services to the homeless community in Yolo County, such as a year-round shelter. This faith-based community’s primary areas of focus are homeless services, treatment and housing. Dawn Brown, the Fourth & Hope development and marketing manager, explained the specific shifts that have taken place in order to simultaneously provide for the homeless community and comply with health guidelines. 

“The emergency shelter has adjusted services within this new climate by operating with day services, seven days a week for our overnight clients to have a way to shelter in place,” Brown said via email. “Beds have been moved into the dining room for distancing, and barriers have been installed between beds in the men’s and women’s dorms. All new clients must be thoroughly screened and possibly quarantined before entry. COVID testing is done onsite as needed.”

Beyond being the designated shelter for Yolo County, Fourth & Hope provides further services to move the homeless community toward a more secure and bright future. 

“We provide case management services that connect our shelter clients with resources such as housing, employment, health services, income assistance, clothing and food closets,” Brown said via email. “Clients are required to follow a case plan specific to their individual needs.”

Looking forward, Brown shared that Fourth & Hope is moving to an expanded shelter in Woodland.

“These last months have been filled with challenges and uncertainty—and hope,” Brown said via email. “We are doing all we can to sustain services for our community and our most vulnerable neighbors. While a lot of uncertainty remains, we know that we need to be ready to adapt fast to our changing reality.”

Grace in Action is a Christian outreach ministry in Davis that has been involved with aiding the homeless community. Before the pandemic, Grace in Action would provide indoor lunches twice a week inside the United Methodist Church of Davis and Pole Line Road Baptist Church. They had to move these lunches outdoors, however, because the church buildings are not open. Grace in Action also serves to connect people in need with different organizations. 

Steve Smith, the executive director of Grace in Action, described the organization’s ability to understand the members of the homeless community as individuals and actively solve the problem. 

“In relation to all these other organizations, we try to see what gap is not getting filled,” Smith said. “It’s because we know people and what their situations are, and they know us, [and have] been able to trust us for a long time. We are very familiar with a lot of people’s circumstances and therefore able to target what we do.”

Although efforts such as apartment housing are being made to help the homeless community, Smith shared that there is still work to be done. 

“These are different needs we see with people right now,” Smith said. “They still don’t have enough to eat, they may not have furniture, they still may not be properly clothed, so we work with other organizations, but we also plug gaps in a shifting scene which COVID has created.”
Written by: Nora Farahdel — features@theaggie.org

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