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Napa’s winter shelter closed Monday morning, leaving dozens of people to figure out where they’ll be sleeping this week.

The winter shelter, which can house 55 individuals, had an average of about 49 people sleeping there between February and March 8, according to a daily census report.

“It fluctuates with the weather,” Emma Moyer, senior housing programs manager at Abode Services in Napa County, said Friday. Abode Services took over the county’s shelter system operations, including the winter shelter, on July 1. In the past, Community Action Napa Valley operated the winter shelter.

Moyer said that how many people stay in the shelter depends on how rainy or how cold it is outside, ranging from about 20 people to the maximum of 55.

As the new kids in town, Moyer said that staff with Abode Services has been trying to build relationships with the county’s homeless population, but that it takes time. One of the challenges was getting people to come into the winter shelter at all.

“Some folks just don’t want to be in shelter,” Moyer said. “They don’t like shelter settings.”

Abode Services operates “low barrier shelters,” meaning that someone who has been drinking or using drugs can still have a bed. When someone gets loud or aggressive, those behavioral issues are addressed by staff, Moyer said.

But this has been a point of frustration to some shelter-goers, despite their appreciation of having a protection from the elements.

Although the majority of people staying at the shelter are “decent” people, officials said, one man, who wanted only to be known as “Cole” for employment reasons, said that it’s annoying having to be housed with some criminals just because you’re homeless.

“They shove everybody into one basket,” he said.

“The bathroom here is just deplorable,” Don Kunkel said Friday night. Sometimes someone drunk will come in, falling over himself and peeing all over himself and the floor, he said.

“It’s kind of like a kennel,” Cole said. “You don’t want to go into that bathroom, you don’t want to be around some of those people.”

But Cole also said that the winter shelter, along with other services available in Napa, has been a “godsend.”

“Your overall outlook has to be ‘I have shelter,’” Cole said.

“Nobody starves in Napa unless you want to,” added Keith, another man staying at the shelter who did not want to use his full name for employment reasons. His strategy for staying at the shelter is to keep to himself, try to get a good night’s sleep and to go about his day when he leaves in the morning.

The problems with cleanliness and behavioral problems happen at any shelter, Keith said.

Keith, who is currently working, says that he hopes to get into the South Napa Shelter. When he saves up enough money, wants to find a permanent place to stay.

If he doesn’t get into the shelter, he’ll be on the street, he said.

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Cole is working, too, but says he still can’t afford an apartment in the Napa County area. He plans to find a secluded place to set up his tent – a place where he can be “incognito.”

“If I have a tent and a nice place, then I don’t consider myself homeless,” Cole said. He would like to buy a truck, though, so he can have something over his head when it’s cold and rainy.

Cole was laid off during the recession and hasn’t been able to find steady employment in his line of work since. A lot of it is “spot work,” he said.

“The way I was raised, if you worked hard, you got rewarded … it’s not that way anymore,” Cole said. “It seems like as soon as you have a foothold, something happens.”

“All working people are really on the precipice of what you’re looking at here (at the winter shelter,” he said.

Because of the lack of affordable housing, Keith said people don’t have any reason to have hope and that’s part of the problem.

“It’s like they’re just stuck here forever,” he said. If they saw a light at the end of the tunnel – a way to get housing – then maybe they would be motivated to work for it, he said.

The men said that it isn’t just a homeless problem – it’s a housing and healthcare problem, too.

Abode Services recognizes that.

The lack of housing in Napa County is a big challenge, Moyer said. The Abode staff plans to try and keep relationships they’ve built with people in the shelter so, she says, when housing becomes available, they can get people into it.


Public Safety Reporter

Maria Sestito is the Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She covers breaking news as well as crime and courts. Maria came to the Napa Valley Register in 2015 after working as a reporter and photographer at The Daily News in Jacksonville, NC.