'Triangle Park' in Napa (copy)

People relax and eat in the so-called Triangle Park on the corner of Division and Franklin streets in Old Town. The adjacent Hope Center will be moving from Old Town to the South Napa Shelter. Two programs offering free meals will remain in the neighborhood.

The Hope Center downtown that serves the homeless, long a source of tension with neighbors, is scheduled to close on July 19 as the services move to the South Napa Shelter.

“I think this is a positive thing, both for the downtown community and our clients,” said Mitch Wippern, a deputy director with the Napa County Health and Social Services Agency.

The daytime center at 1301 Fourth St. serves about 60 clients, many, but not all, of whom are homeless, Wippern said. It’s a place where people can shower, get their mail, use a phone or computer, go to a health clinic and receive case management services.

Services will transition from the Hope Center to the South Napa Shelter beginning this Saturday, Wippern said. The South Napa Shelter is located at 100 Hartle Court, near the OLE Health campus under construction and the Century Napa Valley movie complex.

“We’re really hoping South Napa will be more of a one-stop shop for folks, instead of going to the shelter and going downtown,” said Emma Moyer, senior housing programs manager at Abode Services, which runs the county shelter operations.

The Hope Center has for about 20 years been in a building owned by the Napa Methodist Church at Fourth and Randolph streets. The center is adjacent to a neighborhood with Victorian homes. Neighbors have talked at many community meetings over the years about problems caused by some Hope Center clients, such as public drunkenness, littering and trespassing.

Downtown resident Janna Waldinger talked in a Tuesday phone interview about the complications involved with the Hope Center, saying Napa is a caring and generous community but that the center has caused problems.

“It has been a heavy burden on my doorstep for many, many years, with intoxicated people on my lawn and people just hanging out with nowhere to go,” she said. “I’m grateful for these services that have been provided for this community of vulnerable people. I’m glad it’s being moved out of the downtown area, as promised 15 year ago or more.”

The Salvation Army and The Table offer meals to the homeless and low-income people in the same neighborhood. But Waldinger said moving the Hope Center should make a difference because homeless services had been clustered in one area.

“I’m grateful for The Table,” Waldinger said. “People need to be fed, and people are more vulnerable today than ever.”

Napa Methodist Church Pastor Lee Neish said there’s always been a bit of tension between the neighbors and the Hope Center.

“I’ve tried to work with both, letting the neighbors know I really understand their issues,” Neish said. “The church had the same issues. We would see unwelcome behavior taking place around our campus.”

He sees the good done by the Hope Center. But, over the seven years he’s been at the church, housing and rental prices in Napa have gone through the roof, he said.

“It’s been very difficult for the Hope Center to achieve its initial goal of helping people get jobs and housing,” Neish said.

In August 2016, Wippern told the county Board of Supervisors that the Hope Center could be a place for the homeless to hang out and wasn’t a “service-rich environment.”

Since then, the county and city have teamed up to reorganize the way homeless services are delivered. The changes included bringing in Abode to manage the services and shifting to an approach that stresses finding housing first, then working with clients on various life issues.

Neish said he didn’t feel anybody was right or wrong amid the neighborhood tensions over the Hope Center. People all spoke from their different perspectives. Sometimes, it takes a sea change to emerge from the quagmire.

He views the new county and city approach to homeless services as that sea change.

The shift of Hope Center services to the South Napa Shelter means Napa Methodist Church will once again be able to use Adams Hall for its own needs. Neish said the church leased out the space for $1 a year for the Hope Center.

Options include renovating the half-century-old building or razing it and building something new, Neish said. Then the church will have a place large enough to host a church-wide dinner and for youths to use as a gym. It will also have a space it can rent to the community for events.

The church will remain involved with issues of homelessness and poverty amid the county’s new approach, Neish said.

“Napa is in for a very fruitful future in being able to much more efficiently work alongside its poorer (residents) and assist them on getting back on their feet,” he said.

A single-day count done by Napa County this year that is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found about 154 people who were homeless and unsheltered. The count defines “unsheltered homelessness” as staying in a place not meant as a living space, such as a car or encampment.

The South Napa Shelter is closer than the Hope Center to the homeless who stay in such places as along the Napa River, a county and city press release said.

“Consolidation of daytime and overnight services to the South Napa Shelter will result in both easier access to services for residents experiencing homelessness and a more efficient use of taxpayer and philanthropic resources,” Napa County Board of Supervisors Chair Brad Wagenknecht said in the release.

Napa Mayor Jill Techel praised the Napa Methodist Church for being “an incredible partner” for 20 years in helping to serve vulnerable people.

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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.