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North County’s first year-round shelter opens in Escondido

ESCONDIDO — Interfaith Community Services Haven House opened its doors as the first North County year-round shelter two days before Christmas.

Kurt Leorise, 45, is one of the 49 men and women to move in. He said Haven House is a godsend.

Leorise has been homeless, off and on, for the past seven years. The night before he moved into the shelter he was sleeping on the streets under an awning. He said this winter has been difficult with rains getting everything wet.

Leorise moved into the shelter Dec. 23. He pointed out his bottom bunk, and the soft pillow he now sleeps on.

Haven House provides the basics of a bunk, bedding, a personal locker, two hot meals and a case management worker. There is also limited access to showers, laundry facilities, computers and a phone.

Leorise said he is looking forward to next steps for himself. His goal is to secure a full-time job in construction or warehouse work.

He said his challenges are to locate a local manual labor job, connect with employers with limited computer skills and secure 40 hours of steady work a week.

The transitional housing program is geared to give a hand up to homeless individuals who are working or those like Leorise, who are on-track to gain employment.

Greg Anglea, executive director of Interfaith Community Services, said participants are assessed for need through the North County 25 Cities initiative program. Those who would benefit from 60 days of temporary housing assistance are accepted to Haven House on a first-come basis.

After two months in the program clients are expected to be employed full time and find permanent housing. Haven House also provides move-in assistance and support as needed through clients’ first year.

The shelter facility is a former automotive garage. It still has the original glass-wall front offices and roll up back doors. Building ventilation and insulation were upgraded, and overhead lighting and a new coat of paint were added.

Past the front offices are two newly remodeled handicap-accessible restrooms, followed by rows of metal bunkbeds lined up in the windowless former garage space. A small couch, TV and a couple of tables and chairs sit between the men’s and women’s bunks.

“It’s a bare bones layout,” Anglea said.

Interfaith Community Services uses adjacent buildings on the site to provide additional community services.

The daily routine at the shelter follows practices of the previous winter-only emergency shelter, which had a 57 percent success rate of participants securing permanent housing.

Clients in the program check in at 5:30 p.m., take a breathalyzer test to assure they meet the sober requirement, then relax until 6 p.m. dinner is served to shelter residents and others in need in the adjacent dinning hall.

At 6 a.m. clients must be out working, looking for work at the adjacent computer lab or following up on leads.

Anglea said the program’s success will require community donations, volunteering and people hiring and renting to program clients.

He added the benefits are getting people off the streets, helping those who are suffering and ending homelessness.

“It’s about creating a continuum of care for the poorest and most vulnerable in our community,” Anglea said. “With a year-round shelter, we can, and we will, provide better tomorrows for those facing difficult todays.”

Haven House has raised $430,000 toward its projected first-year operations cost of $500,000. There is a waiting list of 100 to be in the program.

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