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Homeless At Risk As Weather Grows Cold

When you're homeless, wet and cold, it's easier to get sick and harder to get well.



Disabled and homeless, Roberta Dosreis worries about what will happen to her in the cold winter months approaching.

Currently, she is living in a tent crammed full of her worldly belongings in a makeshift campsite not far from the river in south Napa.

“I’m not sure what I am going to do," said Dosreis, who said she has been homeless for about two years.

"I can go to the (homeless) shelter. I have been in the (homeless outreach) programs,” she said.

Dosreis is among about 450 Napa homeless who have reason to dread the cold, windy and stormy weather that late autumn and winter bring.

“The worst part is trying to stay dry,” Dosreis said. “If you get your clothes wet, you have to sleep in them. Your body heat is the only way your clothes will dry out.”

Outside her crowded tent, Dosreis’ campsite is littered with crumpled pieces of tissue. An electric fan and electric broom can also be found among the scattered items that clutter the ground.

At a campsite closer to Soscol Avenue are the makeshift homes of Don Sadler and and Steve Hubbard.

“I’ve been homeless about two years this time, and I’m getting unemployment. I try to take care of (my health,) especially in the winter. It’s hard, but the most important thing is to stay dry,” Hubbard said.

“You can get really sick if you have to sleep in the cold and rain,” he added.

Napa's Clinic Ole provides medical care for the homeless, but Sadler said he doesn’t go to doctors.

"If I get sick, I just live with it until it goes away,” he said. “The winter and rain are the worst. It’s awful to be outside when the weather is miserable.”

Many of Napa’s homeless are candidates for serious medical problems, according to Napa Police Lt. Debbie Peecook, who heads the Napa police homeless outreach program.

“A lot of them are worn down from living in the elements for an extended amount of time. They don’t eat well. Their hygiene is not very good. And many suffer from addiction and mental health problems,” Peecook said.

“Things only get worse for the homeless in the cold and rainy months. They don’t have the winter proper clothing or shelter from the cold. Many suffer from hypothermia.”

Nobody has to sleep outside: The county homeless shelter behind Home Depot in south Napa is open all year.

But, Peecook said, “Many of the homeless don’t want to go to the shelter. It is an all-night lockdown facility. And you have to be clean and sober to use it.”

Peecook said Napa's homeless range in age from teens to the elderly, some of who are in their 70s, adding the majority of them are men.

“We also have families. But for most of them it is a temporary situation,” Peecook said.

“It’s sad out there for the homeless. They are vulnerable to many bad things that come from living on the streets,” she continued.

“They get sick easily because they can’t fight off infections and viruses. It’s very sad, but many of them die alone.”

The police homeless programs, in conjunction with other county homeless organizations, provide alternatives for those living on the streets.

Peecook, along with homeless outreach specialists Brandon Gardner and Ruben Faria, contact the homeless, many at their camps, almost daily and provide information of the services available to them, including housing, self-help programs, employment and medical care.

Gardner, who has been with the homeless outreach program since 2005, said he worries about the homeless.

“They are so exposed to bad things happening to them. The lack of medical care and housing is a big thing. We do what we can, but they have to be willing to help themselves,” Gardner said.

The program has a good success rate for getting permanent housing for those on the street, Gardner said.

“The first thing is to get them to go to the homeless shelter opposed to living in tents and blankets out in the open,” he said.

“However, if they are kicked out of the shelter, they can’t go back for 30 days. So at that point they have no place to go.”

The outreach program works with landlords to find low-income housing.

‘It’s not cheap. Right now the lowest rent for a one-bedroom in Napa is between $825 to $950 a month,” Gardner said.

“Most of the homeless get some type of monthly government assistance, so they can afford to pay some rent. We also encourage them to get roommates," he went on.

“We do whatever we can to help them get on the right track. We even help them complete a resume, pick out clothes for the job interview and drive them there. Whatever it takes,” Gardner said.

A temporary winter shelter also provides housing for the homeless. Open from Nov. 15 until the first of March or April, it is located at the Napa Valley Expo this year and has 50 beds.

Those using the winter shelter do not have to be clean and sober, but will be asked to leave if they get out of line, according to executive director Drene Johnson of Community Action Napa Valley, which operates the shelters.

“Although there are several homeless who don’t want to use the shelter, for those who do, it provides a safe and warm place to sleep,” Johnson said.

The winter shelter costs Napa County $127,000 annually, Johnson said.

“If we have people come to the shelter who are sick, depending on the seriousness, we call paramedics. So they are taken to ,” she said.

Johnson believes the winter shelter is a lifesaver for Napa's homeless.

“Without the winter shelter, I believe some of them would not survive the cold, harsh winter,” Johnson said.

“They are subjected to the elements, many are malnourished and prone to illnesses.”

Marsha Dorgan October 27, 2011 at 05:14 PM
Reading this has made me feel more thankful for what I have.

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