About 20 homeless people a night have been staying in the Calexico Neighborhood House's emergency winter shelter in the 400 block of Fourth Street. It has been providing refuge from cold nights since Dec. 23 and will remain open until Jan 31. | Photo courtesy of Maribel Padilla
CALEXICO — Since opening Dec. 23, the Calexico Neighborhood House’s emergency winter homeless shelter has beenfeeding and housing up about 20 people a night and will do so through its scheduled Jan. 31 closure, organizers said.
organization is recruiting volunteers to serve as overnight shelter monitors,
said Richard Ortega, former director of the faith-based agency who is now its special
Ortega is administrator
of the shelter, known as the Calexico Neighborhood House Hall, at 426 Fourth
St. Its hours are 6 p.m.-6 a.m. daily. Guests are asked to leave each morning and
return and re-register each day, he said.
The shelter is for men,
women and children with partitions to separate them
An important element is training
volunteers at the shelter Tuesdays at 4 p.m., Ortega said, adding he assists in
“We have to have certain
rules they (the homeless) need to follow,” Ortega said of the need for
monitors. “There are security rules. We have to organize the location, keep it
safe and secure.”
Among about two dozen
rules are those prohibiting fighting, drug and alcohol use, and being
intoxicated, Ortega explained.
The monitors help with
registration and meal service from 6:30-7:30 p.m., with some performing
overnight supervision, Ortega explained.
While Neighborhood House got
the shelter open and funded initially, the project involves other entities.
They include the Calexico Homeless Collaborative Committee
established by Mayor Bill Hodge, Catholic Charities’ men’s shelter in Calexico,
the Brown Bag Coalition and other homeless advocates.
The committee is the
“support group” for local efforts to help the homeless in the city, Ortega
said, adding it has been integral in assisting with the operation of the
shelter through donation of food items and volunteer hours.
The Neighborhood House
shelter has room for 40 people a night, with cots, blankets and a large coffee
maker donated by the American Red Cross’ Imperial Valley Service Center, Ortega
The agency has funded shelter
meals as an extension of its preschool meal program, he added. It serves 600
meals a day to children, so it’s little trouble to include an extra 20 meals.
The 40 emergency shelter spaces
are in addition to the 50 beds made available nightly by Catholic Charities at
the Our Lady of Guadalupe men’s shelter and the 23 spaces for women and
children made available by Neighborhood House.
The cost of the emergency
shelter is not yet known but Dec. 30 Ortega estimated it at up to $4,000 a
month, some of which it is hoped will be recouped through community donations.
Calexico Schools Deny Use of Gym
Hodge said Dec. 30 that earlier
in December he and Ortega went to the Calexico Unified School District in an
attempt to use the De Anza Junior High School ninth-grade gym as the emergency
shelter while classes were on break for the Christmas holiday. However, that
idea was voted down by the Calexico Unified School District board, 3-2, during
its meeting Dec. 12, he added.
Calexico school officials
could not be reached for comment.
Executive Director Cindy Alba helped arrange use of the agency’s facility after
the school board’s denial, Ortega said.
Hodge said he and Ortega
were to meet again the week of Jan. 6 to discuss post-emergency-shelter efforts.
That will likely involve asking churches to use their halls for temporary shelters
through the end of the cold-weather period.
With focus having been on
the emergency shelter through much of December, the Homeless Collaborative committee
hasn’t met in some weeks, Hodge said. It has been instrumental in bringing the
issue of homelessness to the forefront and getting some short-term solutions in
place, members said.
“I’m proud of that and
very grateful,” Hodge said. “It’s a good experience because you’re down on the
ground with the homeless. You see them, you talk to them … You get to see what
they’re going through, although you can never really experience what they are
Long-term Solutions Needed
There remain longer-term
solutions the committee hopes to work on, Hodge and Ortega said, including
helping rehabilitate the Catholic Charities shelter, which Hodge described as
There is a vital need for
case-management services that include finding the homeless transitional and
permanent housing and offering other critical services for elements that
contribute to their homelessness, Ortega added.
Ortega’s knowledge has
been crucial for the committee, Hodge said, explaining, “I enjoy working with
Mr. Ortega. He knows his stuff. He has lots of experience and knowledge…I’m humbled
to learn from him.”
Meanwhile, January is
expected to be an important one for Brown Bag Coalition, Padilla said.
Its last projects for
2019 were a posada for the needy at the Vo Medical Center and delivering gifts,
food and blankets to the homeless in Calexico and El Centro on Christmas night.
Padilla said Lalo and
Leticia Perez of L&A Shuttle donated one shuttle that night, driven by
Lalo, to deliver the gifts as well as drive about several homeless men from
Calexico-area parks to the Neighborhood House shelter where the gifts were also
House has committed to feeding those at the shelter until Jan. 31, the Brown
Bag Coalition is suspending its street-level meal service for an entire month
for the first time since the organization formed five years ago, Padilla said.
She described this as an
opportunity for she and her family and the many Brown Bag volunteers to
replenish themselves–physically, emotionally and financially–before resuming
meal services Feb. 1 at Border Friendship Park in Calexico.
Still, Brown Bag will be
active in January, Padilla stressed. It is seeking to raise the final $3,000
for shipping a grant-funded two-stall shower/toilet/sink trailer. Brown Bag
hopes to deploy it during meal services when the temperatures warm.
The trailer was purchased
through a $15,000 grant from Joe Kennedy’s Citizens’ Energy Corp., $5,000 from
the Local Entity/Imperial Irrigation District and $1,000 from Planned
Parenthood in El Centro, Padilla said.
Donations for the shower
shipping may be made on the group’s Facebook page or by sending a check or
money order to Brown Bag Coalition, P.O. Box 1881, El Centro, CA 92244-1881.
Contributions to the Neighborhood House emergency winter shelter may be made by clicking on the donation button at www.nhclx.org. Prospective volunteers should call (760) 455-0520.