Pictured: Gerry Schwanke, a volunteer with the Ojai Valley Family Shelter prepares pancake breakfasts at a recent morning mobile shower day. Photo courtesy of Ojai Valley Family Shelter.
by Kimberly Rivers
In addition to the shelters that operate year-round, winter warming shelters offer a much needed resource for unhoused individuals as the weather turns cold. But the availability of these winter warming shelters has been impacted by the pandemic, limiting the availability of warm beds.
Two warming shelters that are gearing up for the season are the Simi Valley-based Public Action to Deliver Shelter or PADS winter sleep program and the Ojai Valley Family Shelter. Both require that the people they serve are from their communities and either became homeless when living in the immediate area or have been an unhoused person there for some time, or otherwise have some kind of connection to the community
Warming up the Grange
Prior to the pandemic the Ojai Valley Family Shelter (OVFS) would rotate its location between several churches in the Ojai Valley. Volunteers from that church and the community at large would prepare and serve a delicious hot meal, and usually a fun movie would be shown before lights out.
As a result of the pandemic, having to prepare seven different locations every week became a real challenge. But the organization was committed to opening the shelter and leased the Ojai Grange building to serve as the single location each night for the winter shelter. The building was outfitted with beds and dividers and cameras for security concerns, and the shelter was able to operate.
This year the OVFS will again be leasing the grange building and relies on community volunteers and local church groups to prepare the dinners and staff the shelter each night.
The winter shelter operates from Dec. 1 through the end of March and those wishing to stay in the shelter must have a tuberculosis (TB) screening clearance and have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In addition, shelter guests must show proof of prior/current residency in the Ojai Valley or otherwise be able to demonstrate a connection to the Ojai Valley.
When the winter shelter is closed during spring, summer and fall, the OVFS operates a mobile shower van twice a week. On Wednesdays and Sundays, the shower van, managed by Ally Mills, will park at either St. Andrews Episcopal (Saturday) or Ojai Presbyterian (Wednesday) and provide hot showers and other resources to those in need. Most shower days, Ojai Valley resident Jerry Schwanke takes to the church’s griddle to prepare a hot pancake breakfast.
The shower days and winter shelter serves from two up to about a dozen or so people each time. Men, women and families are welcome.
Like many nonprofit organizations, the OVFS relies heavily on volunteers and several volunteer positions are open, including coordinators for the winter shelter and food coordinators, who schedule and organize volunteer cooks and ensure that meals are well managed.