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Cities Come Out of the Cold on Winter Shelter Aid

Homeless: Oxnard and Ventura show more cooperation on funding a warming facility--in stark contrast to prior years.


As the mercury drops to the 40s this weekend, the Oxnard City Council is set to decide Tuesday whether to apply for several grants to help pay for a winter shelter for the homeless in western Ventura County.

This follows a similar vote this week by Ventura officials to seek such state and federal funding for the winter warming shelter at the National Guard Armory in Oxnard.

Two months ago Ventura voted to give Oxnard $58,000 as its share of the operating costs for this year's shelter program, and last week Ventura agreed to assume operation of the shelter in alternating years.

Such cooperation between the cities is in stark contrast to years of accusations from Oxnard leaders that Ventura officials were not doing their share to provide cold-weather facilities for transients.

"It's good to see Ventura and Oxnard working together," said Kathy Jenks, director of Ventura County's animal regulations department, which oversees the RAIN homeless advocacy project. "This is a regional problem, not just Oxnard's problem."

"I see it as a new era," said Mike Ewens, project manager for the Salvation Army in Oxnard.

Ewens said political leaders in both cities recognized it was much more expensive to open shelters in both cities.

Oxnard Councilman Tom Holden agreed.

"Hopefully, we've put all that behind us," Holden said of the feud. "It's to both our benefit to work together on this. We are neighbors and what affects Oxnard affects Ventura."

Oxnard is expected to ask the state for a $100,000 grant to operate the warming shelter through 2002. The council very likely will also request county supervisors provide $34,000 to operate the shelter, which houses up to 150 homeless people a night.

It costs $240,000 annually to run the homeless shelter at the armory, Ewens said. Rent paid to the National Guard is $40,000. The rest of the money would cover the expense of staffing the shelter, feeding the homeless, providing transportation and other services, he added.

Along with Ventura's pledge, Oxnard has agreed to chip in $43,000 this winter, Ewens said. Port Hueneme has pledged $2,500 and Camarillo donated $7,500.

Meanwhile, a rotating shelter program in Simi Valley operated by religious and nonprofit groups has lost one of its member churches, leaving homeless advocates there scrambling to find a replacement.

The Church of Christ in Simi Valley has dropped out of the winter shelter network after two longtime volunteers decided they could no longer run the church's program on Thursday nights.

This exit from the citywide network drew criticism from Simi Valley Councilwoman Barbra Williamson, who suggested the church could continue to allow the homeless to sleep overnight in rooms it mostly uses for classes and 12-step meetings while volunteers not affiliated with the church could take over monitoring duties.

"The nights are getting colder and we need these places, especially for the kids," Williamson said. "If need be, I'll come down there myself and volunteer."

There is little political support in Simi Valley for a year-round shelter, said Jan Gageby, executive director of the nonprofit Samaritan Center, which provides counseling, job training and a shower and mailing address for Simi Valley's transients.

Another long-term problem facing Simi Valley's homeless is a lack of affordable apartments, Gageby said. The Samaritan Center runs a 10-unit apartment building that offers federally subsidized housing, but the waiting list is long, she added.

"I have clients with Section 8 certificates and they can't find a place around here," Gageby said. "There's just nothing out there that's affordable for these people."

Since September, homeless people have begun camping out in front of Church of Christ on Thursday nights, said Ed Heller who led the Public Action to Deliver Shelter program with his wife Monica at the Church of Christ through last winter.

Heller, who lives next door to the church on Sinaloa Avenue, still tries to help the homeless who camp out, but said he can't continue to devote the time and energy needed to run the program. The former construction worker has also been struggling with emphysema since his retirement last year.

"There aren't enough people in a congregation of our size who are able to make that kind of commitment, particularly on a weekday morning like Friday," said Dan Hall, an elder at the Church of Christ, which has about 150 members. He said church officials may soon take up Williamson's suggestion of using outside volunteers for its shelter.

National Weather Service meteorologist Bruce Rockwell said Friday that temperatures are expected to dip into the low 40s overnight tonight and Sunday. Fortunately for Simi Valley transients, the other four churches in the PADS program are open this weekend. And in Oxnard, Salvation Army representatives will offer blankets to homeless people who have to camp outside.

In the Thousand Oaks area, seven churches take responsibility for providing overnight accommodations one night a week to an average of 20 to 30 transients, said J.R. Jones, program director for Lutheran Social Services, which helps oversee the Conejo Valley Winter Shelters program. These church shelters are open through March 31, Jones said.

The National Guard Armory and the Conejo shelters are scheduled to open Dec. 1.


Times Community News reporter Kevin F. Sherry contributed to this story.

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