Oakland: City opens winter shelters for homeless

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The shift to cold, wet weather is bringing more shelter beds into the mix in Oakland.  

The city is funding three winter shelters, adding about 100 beds to the count.

They opened Monday night at 6 p.m., but demand was light, considering the drizzle.

"This is a stop-gap measure," said Ryan Uyehara, Special Works Manager at the St. Vincent de Paul facility in West Oakland. 

It is the largest of the three shelters, but had only six takers for 60 cots. 

Based on the charity's previous two years experience, though, managers expect to see more people once word spreads, and the cold becomes more uncomfortable. 

Many clients, they say, are homeless for the first-time. 

"They're victims of the rising rent prices, people can't afford it here, I can't afford it here," said Uyehara. 

The clients who arrived Monday night signed-in, spread their bedrolls, and relaxed. 
Coffee was available, along with a light snack. 

The cots are in the same large room where St. Vincent de Paul serves 140,000 free lunches year-round.

The city funding allows for overnight staffing, from now until mid-April. 

"We don't see every person who is in a tent want to come inside," said Executive Director Blase Bova. 

Bova acknowledges an explosion in homeless encampments in Oakland.

Camp dwellers, he notes, are often reluctant to leave their belongings behind. Plus they must accept limitations on behavior, pets, and hours. 

Monday evening, as beds went empty, hundreds of people were hunkered down in tents, less than a block away.

Because they prize independence, many will endure the cold, even when they are in deteriorating health, physically and mentally.  

"When you're homeless, you've got so many miles to walk, and so many hoops to jump through," said Bova,"and the stress of so much uncertainty in your environment, is hard on people."

Before clients leave at 8 a.m. each day, a case manager will try to connect them to services or training, everything from a shower to help with a resume. 

Before the opening of winter shelter, the city had about 350 beds available at a variety of sites, and an estimated 3,000 homeless individuals.      

The shelters will open to clients by 6 p.m. daily and close by 8 a.m. the next morning, and will operate until April 16.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society site at 675 23rd St. in West Oakland can be contacted at (510) 638-7600 and has 50 beds available by vouchers and 15 on a first-come, first-served basis, city officials said.

A smaller East Oakland Community Project Crossroads shelter at 7515 International Blvd. in East Oakland can be contacted at (510) 532-3211 and has 10 overflow beds available.

St. Mary's Center at 925 Brockhurst St. has 25 beds available for seniors and other vulnerable populations. The center can be contacted at (510) 923-9600, city officials said.