Winter shelter demand outpaces capacity

ENCINITAS — Despite the festive atmosphere of bustling commerce, twinkling lights and Christmas tree shopping, many families are struggling to keep a roof over their heads this holiday season. In fact, those along the coastal cities who have no place to turn might be lucky enough to land a spot in the Interfaith Shelter Network North Coast’s temporary shelter.
Linda, who asked that her real name not be used, is one of the lucky ones who is participating in the shelter’s rotational. The divorced mother keeps herself busy looking for a second job and trying to secure a permanent home in the area where she has seen most homes, even small apartments, priced out of her reach.
“I had a good job, but like a lot of people I got laid off due to budget cuts and wasn’t able to keep up with my bills,” she said in a matter of fact tone. “It all happens so fast, one day your bank account is reasonably full and then it’s all gone; there wasn’t enough savings to last more than a few months.”
Someday soon, she hopes, they will move out of the seasonal shelter for the homeless operated by a group of North County coastal churches. “I’m so blessed that these people are willing to help,” Linda said. “Without them I don’t know where we would be.”
The network involves 120 congregations of all denominations countywide in a rotational shelter program. About 60 of the congregations host the program in their facilities for two or four weeks a year and the remainder serve in a valuable support role, providing volunteers for meals and overnight hosting, transportation and donations. 
Through neighborhood congregations linking with others, guests are sheltered where there are no shelters and receive the understanding and support of congregations when previously all they knew was fear and uncertainty.
Guests are placed in coastal congregations within the network after being screened by the Community Resource Center to assure there will be no active drug, alcohol or mental health problems. The center works closely with the guests to resolve the problems leading to their homelessness. 
Only 12 guests at a time generally stay in the congregation facilities. At the end of two weeks, the entire operation rotates to another area congregation. Guests can stay up to eight weeks in the network. Children at the shelters are enrolled in schools.
Most of the clients in the shelter are “situationally homeless.” With jobs and homes, the clients found themselves on the edge of an economic cliff after changes beyond their control such as extended illnesses and job loss.
The need for services and temporary housing has far outpaced the capacity for the network to meet the need. While the shelter had empty beds at the start of the season last year, there is now a waiting list. “We’ve been full since the day we opened,” Community Resource Center Executive Director Laurin Pause said.
The resource center offers shelter guests free case management for up to six months, providing counseling, parenting classes, financial literacy, life-skills classes and access to food. “Last year, we had a 75 percent success rate in getting people employed and permanently housed,” Pause said.
Lynne Calkins, who is serving her second year as coordinator of the network at San Dieguito United Methodist Church in Encinitas, said the program is beneficial for both the guests and the participating congregations. “We are a Christian church and part of the mission of our church is to minister to the hopes and hurts of a troubled world,” she said. “It dovetails so well with the mission of the Interfaith Shelter Network, how can we not participate?”
Calkins emphasized the precarious nature of humanity through the lens of the shelter guests. “It can be anybody down on their luck,” she said. “These are people who are feeling helpless. They want to improve their situation and this is a way we can help.”

For more information:

Interfaith Shelter, Inland
Dec. 21-April 10
(760) 489-6380
Hosted by local churches.
For men, women and families.

Interfaith Shelter, Coast
Sept. 28-March 14
(760) 753-8300
Hosted by local churches.
For men, women and families.


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