A shelter in Guerneville is scheduled to open as early as the weekend after Thanksgiving to provide beds and meals for the local homeless population.

Because the shelter is limited to 25 people, those from outside the Russian River area will be given shelter for a night if there is room and a bus ticket to seek shelter in Santa Rosa or Petaluma, officials said Friday.

"If they find their way into Guerneville or are traveling down the coast, we will try to shelter them if we have a bed, but the intent is to keep the shelter for the homeless in this area," said Katrina Thurman, executive director of West County Community Services.

The organization is finalizing an agreement with the River to Coast Children's Services to rent the Sonoma County veterans building, which River to Coast is managing, for four months.

West County Community Services has $15,000 from the Community Development Commission and $55,000 in county transit occupancy tax revenues to run a shelter.

"If the weather changes and we have staffing and supplies, we will open early; it could be that weekend, but no later than Dec. 1," Thurman said. "The last two winters, the coldest day of the year actually happened in the week prior to Thanksgiving. We will try to be prepared if a bad storm is coming or there is really cold weather."

Thurman said that the services district also has lined up volunteers to provide meals for the homeless at the shelter, but needs more.

"We have had incredible groups of volunteers. Meals were provided five out of seven nights by families, neighborhoods. People would come in with soup, chili, casseroles; we have some folks stepping up," Thurman said. "Our hope and goal, what we need the most, is people having something warm in their stomach before they go to sleep at night."

Meanwhile, plans to build a permanent facility to provide homeless services, which could cost $1 million to $1.5 million, have been shelved until the economy improves, Thurman said.

The River Area Shelter and Downtown Task Force was meeting a year ago to find a permanent location, but there is no funding available.

(You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.)