TURLOCK — Since becoming homeless five years ago, Chris Shriver has slept “here and there,” in orchards and garages and most recently a place he said people refer to as “the pit,” a swampy drainage area behind a gas station.
So when the We Care Program opens its cold-weather shelter for men, the difference is night and day.
“I really appreciated the first night when the air I was breathing didn’t get any colder,” Shriver said. “Sometimes I’d be waking up in the middle of the night and I would just be coughing because of the cold. Having a warm place, being able to shower every night is a real blessing.”
The first night of the season was Friday and Shriver, 35, said he will stay through the end of the season in April.
The 49-bed facility at 219 S. Broadway has showers, social rooms and nightly dinners cooked by youth groups, faith-based organizations or even generous families. The staff connects clients with resources to find substance abuse treatment, work or temporary housing.
To benefit from the services of the We Care Program, clients must follow all the rules, do their chores and respect each other’s space and belongings. They are searched by a security guard before entering the facility, they must leave if they are involved in any altercation, and their names are sent to law enforcement each night so they can’t use the shelter as a hideout if they are wanted.
Regulars who contribute and follow all the rules, like 49-year-old Conrad Miranda, are rewarded in kind. He sleeps in one of the coveted single rooms. The shelter has been a means of regaining his independence after losing his job and battling methamphetamine addiction.
Miranda is 65 days sober and looking for work.
Shelter Manager Debbie Gutierrez said about 30 men stayed each night over the weekend but, as the temperature drops and word spreads, it will soon be operating at capacity.
She said last year some people had to be turned away.
Since opening in 2003, the We Care Program has expanded its season from 2½ months to five months, but Gutierrez said Turlock needs a year-round shelter.
The only other shelter in the city, the Turlock Gospel Mission, serves women and children. It, too, opened on Friday.
The mission also is in a capital campaign to raise some $1.8 million to renovate a building just south of downtown into a year-round overnight shelter for men, women and children.
The We Care Program is mostly grant-funded, but its staff has also been focusing on fundraising to expand services.
This year the organization is gathering personal and family recipes to create a cookbook that the We Care Program will use as a fundraiser. All of the proceeds will benefit the Emergency Cold Weather Shelter.
To learn about this and other fundraising events or to volunteer or make a donation, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 1291, Turlock, CA 95381. You can also call the office at (209) 664-2003 or visit www.wecareturlock.org.