In the midst of a cold and wet winter in Southern California, the need for a warm place to sleep is ever present among the county’s homeless population. In Oxnard, a welcome change has come as a formerly night-only emergency shelter has transitioned to 24 hours, providing stability for newcomers and regulars alike, until the end of the season at least.
Temporary Emergency Shelters, one located in Oxnard and the other in Ventura, have been operated regularly over the years with the National Guard armories leased for the purpose as both cities work toward the ultimate goal of opening permanent shelters.
In 2018, the National Guard consolidated its armories within the state and in January vacated the Oxnard location, giving the city the opportunity to offer more in the way of shelter and services. One such way life has become somewhat easier for overnight guests came via a donation of 100 bunk beds courtesy of the City of Port Hueneme. The city reached out to its local cannabis dispensaries for donations toward $35,000 needed to purchase the beds. Port Hueneme’s Community Benefit Fund donated $10,000, Skunkmasters, the city’s first legal cannabis dispensary, donated $17,500, and SafePort, Emerald Perspective, Hueneme Patient Collective and TradeCraft Ventures made up the rest.
With assistance from the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, the beds were assembled on Monday, Feb. 25. The Oxnard shelter is currently equipped to handle 110 individuals, whom, up until recently, were sleeping on air mattresses. Prior to transitioning to 24-hour, the shelter had to vacate the premises daily by 7 a.m., meaning early wake up calls and a scramble to clean up before the National Guard employees arrived for the day.
Another meaningful change: Guests are now allowed to bring their pets, often a barrier for homeless individuals for whom a pet can be the closest thing to family they have. The shelter now has an area where guests can stay overnight with their dogs, bathe them if needed and receive services and licensing via Ventura County Animal Services.
Karl Lawson, Fair Housing officer with the City of Oxnard, says that while both Oxnard and Ventura are committed to the goal of a permanent, year-round shelter, the city is taking advantage of having the armory building all day during the winter months.
“People are a lot less stressed when they don’t have to spend the day in the street; I can see the difference, I’ve been working it for years,” said Lawson.
Lawson says that beyond the ability to sleep-in, caseworkers and healthcare agencies have an easier job working with the guests in one location. Allowing agencies and nonprofits access to individuals in a safe environment makes a big difference, says Lawson.
“When you have access to be able to reach them during the day not with a clip board on the street but sitting down and going through their situation, it really can help a make a long-term impact on helping people move out of homeless,” said Lawson.
But the shelter’s lifespan is in the name: temporary. As with previous iterations of the joint-city operated shelters, the length of time the doors can remain open depends on funding. One third of the shelter’s funding comes from each of the cities of Ventura and Oxnard, the other third from the County of Ventura. This year’s fund totals just under $600,000, according to Lawson, adding that this should allow the shelter to operate through mid-May.
Mark Alvarado, Oxnard’s Homeless Program Coordinator, says that the city is working hard to find a permanent location.
“At this point in time, we haven’t identified a permanent facility but we’re working very hard to make that happen,” said Alvarado. “It’s not an easy task because of the permitting involved and pricing and there being a lot of different moving parts to this operation.”
Alvarado says that the city has identified several locations that could work for a permanent shelter and that they are “well into” the process. Once the shelter opens, it will be operated by the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Mercy House, which operates shelters nationwide, said Alvarado. While searching for a manufacturer of bunk beds, Mercy House recommended Tennessee-based American Bedding, which the city of Port Hueneme ultimately purchased the beds from.
There are two private year-round shelters in Oxnard: the Ventura County Rescue Mission and the Lighthouse for Women and Children both operate yearly with services available as well. Meanwhile, the city of Ventura, which approved of a full-time, year-round shelter in the city in 2018, is in the planning stages of opening its shelter after having selected a location. Alvarado says that the Oxnard shelter is currently operating at full capacity.
Guests who wish to stay in the Temporary Emergency Shelters need a referral from a partnering agency, which can be acquired by calling 211.