Midway through the first month of 2017, many people across the county are in desperate need of living quarters, some displaced by fire, others fearing the oncoming lack of funding for a winter warming shelter in Oxnard.

During the oft rainy winter months from December through March, the cities of Ventura and Oxnard, in conjunction with Ventura County, operate the West Ventura County Regional Winter Warming Shelter providing a temporary home for the area’s homeless population. This winter’s shelter, opened on Dec. 1, 2016, however, has faced a sore lack of funding. Questions of whether or not the shelter will be able to remain open throughout its typical run, through March, have been raised.

Peter Brown, city of Ventura community services manager, said in December that Ventura and Oxnard were expected to contribute $130,000 toward the shelter’s operations from a combination of the community development block grant program and their respective general funds. He noted that the shelter can cost up to $90,000 a month to operate, which includes staffing, services and related services.

Brown, who has been a vocal advocate for a permanent homeless shelter in the county, says that currently there are enough funds to operate the shelter through the end of February.

“Nobody ever asks about what happens to the people from April 1st through Nov. 30; they only ask what happens if you close the shelter,” said Brown, “Well they’re going to do the same thing they do [when the shelter is closed]; they’re going to be on the streets, or couch surfing. They’ll go back to being homeless.”

On Jan. 3, the city of Oxnard, where the shelter is located in the National Guard Armory, dispatched an urgent call for additional funding for the month of March. The shelter needs an additional $80,000 in order to continue operations.

Through the month of December, a total of 300 individuals called the shelter home for at least one night, with the average attendance for the first four weeks around 80, but over the last 10 days, at 90, according to city of Oxnard Interim Homeless Services Coordinator Karl Lawson.

Lawson says that a state grant is not guaranteed — the county received $65,000 from the state for the last 2015/2016 winter warming shelter. While both the cities of Oxnard and Ventura, as well as the county, are working toward the shared goal of a permanent shelter, his job currently is to “plug this one hole in the social safety net with the resources we have.”

“We’re only really providing a pretty limited service here,” said Lawson. “It’s a place to sleep at night, and even if everything goes well, it will end at the end of March. For most of them, it’s going to be back on the streets.”

Meanwhile, two separate fires in Oxnard and Ventura on Jan. 3 displaced more than 50, forcing them into emergency shelters.

An arrest was made in connection to suspected arson that displaced 43 residents of the Leewood Hotel on the 700 block of East Santa Clara Street in Ventura. Police say that Juan Turner, 34, was arrested on suspicion of setting the blaze and held on $100,000 bail.

The Leewood Hotel was red-tagged and deemed uninhabitable due to smoke damage by the Ventura City Fire Department, and two residents were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation. The hotel offers affordable housing to its residents, at around $800 per month per room. Half of the hotel’s residents took shelter for several days at the Red Cross shelter in Camarillo and at the Ventura County Fairgrounds’ emergency shelter. The fire is still under investigation and it remains unclear when the residents will be allowed back.

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, the emergency shelter at the Ventura County Fairgrounds shutdown, leaving the dozen or so former Leewood residents to seek shelter elsewhere.  

“To bring a property back online after a fire is a very complicated exercise,” said Brown. “It’s one thing if it’s a fire in a single family residence where you’re fully insured and you take your stuff and go and rent somewhere because you have the resources, but we’re talking about a group of people who have been displaced whose choices and resources are much more limited than the general population.”

Brown adds that of the 36 rooms at the Leewood Hotel, only eight have been deemed habitable post-fire. Social workers and city employees have been dispatched to assist the residents in the meantime. An all-hands-on-deck meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 11, which is after the VCReporter deadline — check online for an update to this story on Thursday, Jan. 12.

On the same day in Oxnard, at the 2000 block of North Ventura Road, a fire struck an apartment complex at around 12:15 a.m. displacing seven adults and eight children from four units. The individuals were assisted by the Red Cross in Camarillo. Oxnard Fire Department crews noted that though there were no injuries, the unit involved in the fire was destroyed.

Volunteers needed for annual survey of county homeless

The annual survey of the Ventura County homeless population is quickly approaching, and organizers are seeking volunteers to help in the undertaking, beginning on Tuesday, Jan. 24, at various sites around the county, followed by a youth survey on Friday, Jan. 27.

Ventura County Continuum of Care, along with partners from individual cities and community partners, are seeking 300 volunteers for the endeavor, during which data is collected via a short survey and observation. Together, the information will provide a “snapshot” of the day-to-day homeless population in Ventura County in order to better understand who is homeless and their needs.

The count is a requirement of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the county to continue to receive federal funds.

In 2016, 1,216 adults and children were counted, representing a 10 percent decrease from the year prior, and the lowest count total since 2007. Oxnard and Ventura accounted for 69.5 percent of the total homeless population. Just over 60 percent of the population was living in unsheltered conditions, with the rest living in temporary situations.

The County of Ventura will host several volunteer training sessions:

  • Ventura:
    Tuesday, Jan. 17, and Wednesday, Jan. 18, noon and 5:30 p.m., 505 Poli St. (City Hall)
  • Simi Valley:
    Monday, Jan. 16, noon-1 p.m., and Wednesday; Jan. 18, 5-6 p.m.; St. Francis of Assisi Church, 280 Royal Ave.
  • Thousand Oaks:
    Wednesday, Jan. 18, noon- 1p.m.; and Thursday, Jan. 19, 5-6 p.m., Hillcrest Villas Apartments, 2726 E. Hillcrest Drive
  • Oxnard:
    Tuesday, Jan. 17, noon and 5:30 p.m. at Oxnard Public Library, 251 South “A” Street. 
  • Camarillo, Port Hueneme and Santa Paula sessions will be conducted on Jan. 24 at 7 a.m. (8 a.m. Santa Paula), prior to the count. For more information, visit www.volunteerventuracounty.org.