Samaritan Family Center

Samaritan Family Center is being scrutinized for mold problems.

Six homeless families that usually would stay at the Samaritan Family Shelter on Old Sonoma Road are instead temporarily living in the ghost town of the vacant Health and Human Services Agency campus a short distance away.

A recent building inspection on behalf of Napa County at Samaritan shelter revealed the presence of mold. Though the county reports no known instances of mold-related illnesses at the shelter, county officials decided last week to relocate shelter occupants.

“We wanted to make sure we erred on the caution side,” county Health and Human Services Agency Director Howard Himes said on Monday.

Every house has some level of mold, Himes said. The questions associated with the family shelter are the extent and significance. County-hired consultants said the mold issues at the shelter can be fixed, he said.

Indoor dampness and mold growth are common problems, according to the California Department of Public Health. Mold exposure can trigger asthma and increase respiratory problems, such as wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing, an agency report said.

The county tried to instantly find homes for seven families with a total of 22 people, 13 of them children. It found permanent housing for one family, leaving six families to go. Samaritan Family Shelter is the only family shelter in the county.

Samaritan Family Shelter is located at 2521 Old Sonoma Road. The former Health and Human Services Agency complex, nearly a half-mile away, has been behind a chainlink fence since the agency relocated to South Campus a year ago.

The county brought the six families — eight adults and nine children — to a building at the complex with spaces for private rooms. It brought in portable showers that are in a truck and portable toilets.

“We see this as very temporary,” Himes said. “We hope this doesn’t last much longer.”

The county is trying to find other housing for the families, such as apartments, he said.

A homeless woman with two children who is now living at the Health and Human Services complex had no complaints about her new dwelling. The family has its own room and privacy, with play areas for the children, she said.

“We feel safe in the place,” said the woman, who has been homeless for more than three months and wished to remain anonymous. “That’s the important thing, I guess. It’s peaceful and clean.”

She didn’t notice any mold problems at Samaritan Family Center.

“We were actually comfortable at that place, too,” she said.

Community Action of Napa Valley (CANV) owns Samaritan Family Shelter. The county is looking at buying the property, which led to a due-diligence building inspection to ascertain the condition of the shelter building. That, in turn, revealed mold is present.

“It’s minimal at best, as far as we know,” CANV Executive Director Drene Johnson said.

None of the shelter occupants reported experiencing any type of mold-related health problems to CANV, she said. CANV plans to have its own consultant come out and look at the mold situation.

“We’re going to take care of it,” she said.

Meanwhile, CANV is still running its CANV Kids program with 30 children in another building on the property, one without mold, Johnson said.

CANV bought the one-acre Samaritan property in 1992 for $528,529, a county report said. A CANV contract with the county to run the shelter expired June 30 and the nonprofit group didn’t submit a bid to manage future county homeless programs. Abode Services, Inc. has taken over that job.

As a result, the county Board of Supervisors approved having the county lease Samaritan Family Shelter from CANV for $8,000 a month through June 30, 2018. The lease for the initial six months gives the county exclusive rights to purchase the property.

CANV last spring completed a partial kitchen remodel at the shelter that included replacing water damaged cabinets and adding new counter tops to a cooking space. Johnson said at the time the 2014 South Napa earthquake might have caused a slow leak that damaged the bottom of one cabinet set.

Johnson said Monday that CANV is regularly having work done on the shelter building.

The state Department of Public Health recommends finding and correcting water leaks that feed mold growth, removing damp materials and cleaning or removing moldy materials.

Howard said the firm Air & Water Sciences environmental consultants did air sampling in the shelter that found elevated mold spore concentrations in the air. It discovered several types of mold—Penicillium/aspergillus, chaetomium, ulocladium and stachybotrys.

Stachybotrys species in the 1990s gained the reputation as a “toxic mold” that could cause particularly bad health problems. However, the California Department of Public Health said in a 2016 report that current consensus doesn’t justify classifying some molds as “toxic molds” that are especially hazardous.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.