Laying Foundation

During the day, homeless people sleep outside of the West Market Street shelter, which is open only overnight.

On an overcast and mild May day in Salinas, a man in a purple and blue windbreaker sleeps in the shade of the 20 West Market Street shelter. His face is covered by the brim of his black baseball cap. His head is propped up on a backpack and his legs are sprawled out.

Behind the building, a worn-down purple minivan drives by and stops, the engine still running. A young girl hops out of the car, peers through the window of the empty shelter and runs back into the vehicle. The van leaves the otherwise empty parking lot. The night before, eight families stayed here.

The shelter is mostly vacant during the day, but once intake begins at 6pm, there’s a line out the door, says Reyes Bonilla, executive director of Community Homeless Solutions, the nonprofit that runs the shelter. “The need is great,” Bonilla says. Since it opened in November 2016, the shelter has been at or near capacity every night, he adds.

Despite the high demand, the Market Street shelter is temporary. The landlord is the Transportation Agency for Monterey County, which agreed to extend the lease past its original April 30 end date to May 30. At the contentious board meeting about extending the lease – which was approved on an 8-7 vote – the board agreed on one thing: Homelessness is a county problem. The TAMC meeting proved to be just hot enough of a fire to spur the county to prioritize the need for a year-round shelter. (The seasonal warming shelter is funded by the city of Salinas and Monterey County.)

When the lease ends and the shelter closes May 31, some regulars will be taken in by nearby shelters. Neighboring Dorothy’s Place and Victory Mission sent proposals to the city of Salinas to shelter single women and single men, respectively; Victory Mission needs an estimated $20,000 worth of electrical upgrades. Meanwhile, there’s no plan for families just yet, but County Social Services officials are set to work on placing them.

In terms of permanent solutions, county officials have been looking at properties from Salinas to Fort Ord. Though much of the Salinas’ homeless population resides between Chinatown and Oldtown, even advocates for the homeless agree it’s not an ideal location for a long-term shelter and doesn’t reach the full population in need. Speaking to the Board of Supervisors May 16, Dorothy’s Place Executive Director Jill Allen said, “It is well known in the community women are unsafe in Chintatown. We frankly get probably half of what we would serve if the streets were safer.”

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One possibility: revamping vacant, boarded-up buildings between Natividad Medical Center and Monterey County Jail. It wins points for proximity to public transportation and spaciousness, but needs work.

“It’s not one of those buildings where you can flick a switch and everything works again,” says Salinas Councilmember Kimbley Craig. As a TAMC board member, she voted against extending the seasonal shelter lease, but says she supports a long-term solution.

County Supervisor Luis Alejo is pushing for creative solutions. He and Assistant County Administrative Officer Manny González visited San Francisco’s Navigation Center on May 12 to see a model where the city/county bought properties. On May 22, they’re set to visit Village of Hope in Fresno to see tiny homes.

“I hope we might pilot a ‘small homes’ model in Salinas as we look to alternative, cost-effective ways to house our homeless residents,” Alejo says.

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Marielle Argueza is a staff writer and calendar editor for the Weekly. She covers education, immigration and culture. Additionally, she covers the areas of Marina and South County. She occasionally writes about food and runs the internship program.

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