Advocates have learned some hard, but important lessons this season.
By JENNIFER IYER | firstname.lastname@example.org | Redlands Daily Facts
PUBLISHED: March 29, 2019 at 6:30 am | UPDATED: March 29, 2019 at 7:35 am
On a recent Friday afternoon Peggy Renner was a whirlwind of gray hair and cutlery, stirring a pot of cheese sauce, shredding chicken and chopping olives in a tiny kitchen in a building behind the Center for Spiritual Living in Redlands.
The 58-year-old is homeless, and she’s making her “American Enchiladas” recipe for about 30 volunteers and neighbors who are coming to a dinner at the center’s cold weather shelter for women.
“These ladies are wonderful,” Renner said of the volunteers. “They’re kind, loving. They care, and we’re doing it for them, we’re going to serve them tonight.”
The dinner is a send-off as the cold weather shelter season officially ends on Sunday, March 31.
It’s been a turbulent season in the city, which started off on an upbeat note when Set Free Church announced in November that it would offer a cold weather shelter, filling a void after the Salvation Army discontinued its program in 2017.
“Set Free stepped up to the plate and said they’d do it, which was wonderful,” said Lorrie Hinkleman, secretary for the Redlands Charitable Resources Coalition and a volunteer at the women’s shelter. “But they had a lot of people there — men and women — and it’s in a very prominent place.”
Complaints from neighbors brought code enforcement officials who closed the shelter temporarily in December, and for good during a rainy week in January.
Some people asked “‘how could they do it?’” Hinkleman said, “‘and on the worst night of the year,’ and yes, I think it’s really unfortunate, but some really good stuff has come out of it.
“If it hadn’t closed down, this wouldn’t have happened,” she added, gesturing to the small room where some of the homeless women helped set up folding tables and chairs for the dinner.
The Center for Spiritual Living almost immediately offered to take in the women when Set Free’s shelter closed, and after that The River Church and Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church offfered to take in a half dozen or so men each.
Hinkleman said she has learned “the value of having the women by themselves, because they really feel safe, and it’s just been amazing to see their demeanor change, because they know that every day, not only do they have a safe place to come, but they’re going to get fed.”
Advocates are already working with the city on plans for the next season.
Hinkleman said she’d like to see the shelter open every night, which would be easier on the volunteers who could have set schedules instead of being called in at the last minute when it was determined the night would be colder than 40 degrees, or more than a 30 percent chance of rain.
Being open nightly, as the women’s shelter was this year, is also better for those they are trying to help.
“When you have this group coming in every night you can start doing case management with them,” Hinkleman said, which would otherwise be hard if the homeless people are not always in the same place.
One 50-year-old woman, who said she has been on the streets since 2015, keeps a folded piece of paper with a mobile home photo and listing. She has been working with a case worker to get Social Security back pay, and once that happens, she said, she plans to move in at space 38.
Another older woman had been sleeping in her car at a rest stop near Banning. Hospital staff told her about the women’s shelter in Redlands, and volunteers were able to connect her with a sober living home.
Those volunteers developed a generic screening form, then they sit with the women at night and call San Bernardino County’s 211 system for services.
“If you’re doing the 40/30 thing, you don’t have the opportunity to build that, whereas we’ve had this time,” Hinkleman said.
Rick Ferguson, the volunteer coordinator for the cold weather shelters, said there are plans to work more actively at getting women into more permanent housing. A few days before the end of the cold weather shelter season, the Center for Spiritual Living decided to keep the women’s shelter open as a transitional shelter for another month.
The center will write some goals for the women “such as making sure they get to their doctor appointments, or their Social Security appointments so they can transition over the next 30 days,” Ferguson said.
The center will rely on volunteers from the community and other churches to make the transitional shelter work.
“There are government services, but what we found is that they’re just not accessible,” Ferguson said.
He said they learned having smaller groups at shelters also helps.
“That allows you to at least get to know them, and learn each individual case, what they need,” he said, but at best, all their work just gets the individual on a waiting list that is at least six months long.
For women in Renner’s position, that’s a long time.
She did get on a list, and gets some services, such as therapy. She admits she has had problems with anger and sobriety.
“I have struggled, but I will not let anybody pull me down,” Renner said as she deboned a chicken she boiled the night before. “There’s times that I want to fall apart and give up, but I know that’s not what God wants me to do.”
She has been cooking since she was 13. As a foster child, she cooked for six. She found herself on the streets after being evicted and her family wouldn’t help.
Renner misses her two grandchildren.
“They’re my everything,” she said, and once she gets a place, she can’t wait to see them again.
The streets have been hard on her, but conversely, that could help her more.
“I got raped out there,” she said.
Her dog was run over in a parking lot and she became hysterical until the paramedics and police were called. There’s a point system, she said, and once volunteers helped her share her life with case workers, she got bumped to the top of the list.
“These people are wonderful, I think that’s what keeps me going because they’re helping me,” Renner said. “I haven’t had this in a long time.”
Renner said she was looking forward to seeing community members at the dinner.
“They’ll get to see that we’re people, too. We have feelings,” she said. “I go to church, I cry. We’re all people, we just can’t find our home right now.”
After the dinner, the center held its regular open mic night.
Laughter and light floated out through the open doors as someone read a poem about chocolate. The stage was brightly lit, and in the darkness beyond candles flickered on tables cluttered with plates of food.
Women from the shelter, volunteers, and center and community members clapped vigorously.
In the dark, Renner’s wide grin glowed. She had received some good news during dinner.
“I got housed,” she said.