Carmichael Confronts Homelessness

Carmichael, CA  |  From Carmichael HART
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Carmichael HART’s (Homeless Assistance Resource Team) Winter Sanctuary provides safe overnight shelter to dozens of people coming in from the cold. Photo courtesy Carmichael HART

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CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - For the second year, hundreds of volunteers from churches, nonprofit organizations, and local businesses are doing something about Carmichael’s homeless people.

Carmichael HART’s (Homeless Assistance Resource Team) Winter Sanctuary provides safe overnight shelter to dozens of people coming in from the cold for nine weeks -- Dec. 30 through March 2.

Guests of HART’s 2nd Winter Sanctuary can get a hot dinner, clean clothes and sometimes showers. They’re given a cot and sleeping bag for the night and are transported back with a breakfast bag to an intake center by 6 a.m. the next morning. Many homeless people are repeat visitors.

“It’s more than a hot meal and a cot,” Carmichael HART President Scott Young said at the charity’s January meeting. “We offer housing leads, help with acquiring IDs, and assist with transportation to help people get to that point where housing is possible for them. Our long-term goal is to get as many people as we can off the streets and into housing. To do that, establishing trust with Winter Sanctuary guests is crucial.”

Barbara Farley, a sanctuary organizer, said hundreds of volunteers are getting to know homeless people on a first-name basis at the local churches that are hosting. 14 people transitioned to housing during and immediately following last year’s Winter Sanctuary. This season, one person already has moved into permanent housing.

Sacramento County’s Department of Public Health trained more than a dozen sanctuary leaders in hygiene measures, which have been implemented. Doctors and nurses from Dignity Health’s Mercy-San Juan Hospital volunteer on Thursday nights to treat wounds, provide non-prescription drugs, and make health referrals.

Financial and other support is coming churches, individuals, and community organizations such as the Carmichael Improvement District (CID), a nonprofit corporation of businesses along the Fair Oaks corridor. The district spends about half of its $310,000 in annual assessments on security measures. It also pays for beautification projects, arranges litter cleanup, graffiti removal, and waste abatement. Gary Hursh, a Carmichael attorney, the district’s past president and current chairman of its Security Committee, says HART and its Winter Sanctuary are good investments.

He said the program last winter took dozens of homeless people off the streets and away from store doorways and other sleeping spots on business property.
“Shuffling people around is not a solution,” he said in an interview. “The next step, in my opinion, is for CID to partner with nonprofits that find and provide housing for the homeless. HART is providing a solution.”

Deputy Kevin Hee of the Sheriff’s Department Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), told HART meeting attendees: “We all agree that we can’t jail and arrest everybody out there. We’re looking at getting services to the homeless. There’s an exponential explosion of homelessness in California. Every community is affected.”

Besides churches, sheriff’s deputies and business leaders, other HART partners are Sacramento Self Help Housing, ATLAS of Carmichael with its thrift store, the local Chamber of Commerce, the San Juan Unified School District, and Sacramento County.

County Supervisor Susan Peters offered this assessment: “Carmichael HART has a proven track record of success, and its Winter Sanctuary program reflects the dedication of the community’s faith-based organizations to help those in need who find themselves homeless.”

Paul Keefer, a trustee of the Sacramento County Board of Education who is working on a               HART plan to help homeless students, stated “As a volunteer for the Carmichael HART Winter Sanctuary I was impressed by the training and guidance that our team received from Sacramento County.”

“Wonderful people are coming with a willingness to help, saying, ‘We want to be part of this,” Farley said at the HART meeting. She reported that 78 different guests participated in last year’s Winter Sanctuary, whereas more than 30 different homeless people have come in the first three weeks of the program this year. Young said volunteers are winning the trust of their guests and are seeing dramatic changes in attitudes and a willingness to accept assistance.  

“We should all have the same goal,” he said. “Whatever our reasons for getting people off the streets, our goal should be the same -- getting people housed. Ultimately, we all want our communities to thrive. As long as we have people camped on our sidewalks, next to our businesses and on our back lots – it remains a distant goal. The only way we’ll see effective change is to get people housed. It’s all about getting people housed.”