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Thomas Huck spent a recent morning at a reborn Hope Center watching television in a large, clean room, a relaxing activity that a homeless person can’t take for granted.

“If I wasn’t here, I’d be walking around the streets,” the former iron worker said.

The center looks peaceful enough. It’s a place for a homeless person to spend a day, do laundry, take a shower and perhaps receive help finding an apartment and working through various life issues.

Yet the center has recently seen a whirlwind of changes, the least of which is a name switch to the South Napa Daytime Resource Center.

Until mid-July, the center for about 20 years had been located in downtown Napa at the Napa Methodist Church near century-old homes. But the dynamic of homeless people hanging around outside the center in a residential area caused friction.

The reborn center is at the South Napa Shelter about a mile away, at 100 Hartle Court in a commercial area. Neighbors now are the soon-to-be-completed OLE Health center, the county animal shelter and, across the street, the South Napa Century Center.

The old, downtown Hope Center served 44 to 55 people daily. The reborn center at the new location serves 25 to 30 people daily, said Emma Moyer, senior housing programs manager at Abode Services, which runs county shelter operations.

“With the location pulling people away from downtown and where the meals are and kind of the heart of the city, we don’t know if we’ll ever have the same numbers,” Moyer said. “But we’re hopeful, though.”

Meanwhile, Abode has outreach teams going to the downtown to help the homeless there and encourage them to visit the day center.

All of this is part of a reorganization of homeless services by Napa County and the city of Napa. The bold goal was stated in a 2016 study done for the two agencies – end chronic homelessness.

Refuge spot

The relocation of the day center to the South Napa Shelter doesn’t bother Huck.

“It’s a big change, but not for me,” said the short-haired Huck, who wore a red T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Colorado” and has a tattoo on his arm.

He is staying at the South Napa Shelter after losing the van he slept in because it failed to pass a smog test and he couldn’t afford repairs to keep the registration. The shelter dorms close during the day, but that’s when the day center opens in another part of the building.

For Huck, reaching the day center merely means remaining at the shelter.

The former U.S. Army reservist said an injury ended his days as an iron worker. He receives about $900 a month in Supplemental Security Income and when he’s not at the day center, he might cross the street to go to the gym.

That compares to the days when he had his van and would park and watch YouTube videos.

“There’s really not a whole lot to do in Napa when you’re homeless,” Huck said.

Also using the relocated day center on a recent day was a man who called himself the Right Reverend Ronald Anthony Read, Esquire. Read spoke fast, sometimes smiling, sometimes looking pained, his emotions written on his face.

Read said he went to the old Hope Center, though there could be drugs and drinking outside at the nearby Triangle park. He grew tearful when talking about the plight of the homeless.

“The people here have experienced so much,” said Read, whose white-bearded head was topped by a black bandanna.

A major goal of day center and local homeless services is to help the homeless get housing. Read said he’s seen so many people get housing, it’s amazing. He’s working on securing housing himself.

“I surround myself with better people, I become a better person myself,” Read said.

A day for the homeless might include breakfast at the shelter and dinner at The Table, a food service for the needy in downtown Napa near the old Hope Center, he said.

Words tumbled out of him, though he took time to pet Beta, the golden retriever comfort dog that wanders the center. Read wants to see more programs at the center, perhaps meditation and art. He suggested having relaxing background music.

“Give them something to do other than sitting in front of the TV,” he said. “The news isn’t good for you.”

The center is intended to be more than a place to kill time and have a cup of coffee. A health clinic, a bike repair class or a chance to talk with a housing specialist are all possibilities on any given day. The center offers substance abuse counseling and helps clients connect with mental health services.

“Meaningful activities,” Moyer said.

There’s another aspect to the day center that serves not only those in the shelter, but those who spend their nights in tents at homeless encampments.

“It’s kind of a refuge spot so they can get themselves together in the daytime,” said Nathaniel Turner, site coordinator for the center.

Transportation a challenge

Read also mentioned challenges the homeless face in finding transportation.

Some of those using the day center might need to travel to the county Health and Human Services Agency campus two-and-a-half miles away. There they can receive such services as mental health counseling.

People at the day center depend on a county shuttle to reach Health and Human Services, Read said. But the free shuttle is to be discontinued at the end of the month.

“If you have no shuttle, people will be missing their groups, they will be stressed,” Read said.

County Health and Human Services Deputy Director Mitch Wippern said that the $180,000-a-year service was meant to be temporary. It began when the Health and Human Services campus moved from near downtown to Napa Valley Commons in the summer of 2016.

Regular Vine bus service frequency to the Health and Human Services campus ranges from 30 minutes during peak hours to 70 minutes during non-peak hours, a June county report said. The report called the shuttle service “essential.”

“The decrease in frequency I’m sure is going to be less convenient for people,” Wippern said. “But I don’t think there’s going to be an impact on their ability to access services.”

Case managers can give bus passes to those who need them, he said. That addresses the issue of bus fare for the homeless.

Moyer said part of being self-sufficient is being able to find transportation. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for the homeless to take the bus.

Still, some homeless people will have trouble using the bus and a solution is needed for them, she added.

The push to end homelessness

Moving the day center to South Napa Shelter is only one step in a plan by Napa County and the city of Napa to improve homeless services. Helping to fuel the effort is a five-year, $11.3 million state grant received in 2016.

County supervisors in July heard an update on the homeless situation.

A count of the homeless done on a single day in January found 315 in 2017 and 322 in 2018. Homeless Services Coordinator Nui Bezaire said there might be more homeless or development might be forcing some to move, increasing their visibility.

A survey of 33 homeless people living in encampments shows that most—21—are from Napa.

“Nearly 75 percent of our encampment residents have been camping in the same location for over three years,” Bezaire told supervisors. “In fact, some of them have been camping at the exact same location for over 10 years.”

She called these people some of the most vulnerable with the highest, most complicated needs. The new strategy includes a team of five people bringing services directly to the encampments.

Another idea is to add 10 beds to the 62-bed South Napa Shelter. Bezaire said the relocation of the Hope Center to the shelter will help provide people there with services.

Ending homelessness hinges on finding homes for people. Wippern said Abode has housed more than 100 households in the past 12 or so months.

That’s the view from the Board of Supervisors chamber. In places such as the South Napa Daytime Resource Center, all of the ideas and plans must become a reality for lives to be changed.

When Read sat in the day center on this recent day petting Beta the golden retriever and describing his experiences, he praised the staff that is working with the homeless.

“Not just doing their job – but really caring,” he said.

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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.