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Santa Rosa’s National Guard Armory will once again become a temporary overnight homeless shelter in the coming weeks, run by a local nonprofit hoping to keep as many as 80 people out of the cold each night this winter.

St. Vincent de Paul Sonoma County advanced the armory shelter plans in the hopes of adding more beds for the region’s outsize homeless population, which numbers at a rate about three times the national average, as near-freezing temperatures become common in the darker hours.

The shelter should launch sometime before Christmas and will be open daily from 7 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., according to Jack Tibbetts, the nonprofit’s executive director who also is a Santa Rosa City Council member. The shelter plans to start with about 60 beds but can expand up to 80 as needed, Tibbetts said.

While temporary shelters do not align perfectly with the county’s policy priority of getting homeless people into long-term living situations as quickly as possible, Tibbetts said the armory shelter is taking several steps to adopt a housing-focused approach. St. Vincent de Paul has hired a staff member who will help place those who use the shelter into housing services, and the organization also has the means to pay first- and last-month’s rent for people who find a home while staying there, he said.

“My board felt like there really was a need in the community for a first-come, first-served type of operation,” Tibbetts said. “Even though that’s not really within the scope of what everybody is talking about right now in homeless services, I tend to agree with that, because this is a cold time. And when it gets cold like that, mixed with wet weather, it gets deadly.”

Tibbetts characterized the shelter as a “respite of last resort” for people who have nowhere else to sleep on cold winter nights. He’s set a goal of getting at least 10 people into permanent housing while the shelter is operational.

It’s currently set to run through March 15, but St. Vincent de Paul may decide to keep it open longer if the overnight weather is still cold in three months, according to Tibbetts.

The shelter will cost about $130,000 to operate, and St. Vincent de Paul has secured all the necessary funds. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved the proposal Tuesday because the National Guard is required by law to get buy-in from a local government in order to use armories as shelters, according to Sgt. Maj. Tom Langenburg.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the board chairwoman whose district includes the armory site near Santa Rosa Junior College, acknowledged the county had an inadequate number of shelter beds for homeless people heading into the winter months.

“We want people to get into some type of rapid rehousing program, and one way to do that is through the shelters,” Zane said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “Not to mention the fact that this is the humane way, in terms of giving people a warm place to stay, a hot meal and a shower, too.”

St. Vincent de Paul already operates a thrift store in Rohnert Park and a free dining room in Santa Rosa, and provides other services, but the armory will mark its first time running a shelter.

Coffey Park Chronicles

Read more stories about Coffey Park’s recovery here.

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“This is definitely new territory for us, but we hired up a pretty competent staff,” Tibbetts said. “I think we’ll be able to do a good job.”

The Santa Rosa armory site has been used as a homeless shelter in years past. It’s currently among 10 armories statewide approved for use as a shelter, Langenburg said.

“We consider it a very important mission,” he said. “It’s our way of giving back to the people, because that’s who we work for. It’s very rewarding. It’s a challenging mission — there’s a lot of different nuances to it — but it’s certainly something I sleep good at night (about), because I know we don’t have homeless people in the middle of winter sleeping under a bridge or sleeping in a car or sleeping on the ground. They’re fed. They’re housed. They’re warm.”

During the shelter’s operating hours, the National Guard will staff two soldiers at the facility to ensure no damage occurs, according to Langenburg. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been using the shelter to stage crews removing debris from the October wildfires but is in the process of finding a new location, Langenburg said.

Tibbetts said St. Vincent de Paul was aiming to have the shelter open by Friday.

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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