VACAVILLE — Thanks to a lot of perseverance and an overwhelming amount of support from the community, the new, larger Opportunity House homeless shelter has opened its doors.
“It’s cool to see it come from a thought to become a building,” said James Tumulak, the shelter’s operations director.
Building the new Opportunity House homeless shelter was a four-year effort complicated by the loss of redevelopment funding and saved by a groundswell of community support.
It replaces the 2,400-square-foot Catherine Street shelter that had 24 beds with the new 9,800-square-foot, two-story building capable of housing up to 60 beds.
The shelter’s residents moved in three weeks ago. Work is still being done on the stairs leading to the shelter’s second floor, which has kept them from using the upper floor. Once that work is finished, the shelter will have all of the room needed to offer the community’s homeless a place to stay and a host of programs to get them back on their feet.
The new facility includes a commercial-grade kitchen, three computers to allow residents to do job searches and print resumes, rooms to hold classes in, a resources room and a children’s loft for supervised activities for the children of homeless families.
“By mid-May, it should be fully functional,” Opportunity House Director Colleen Erdes said.
There are group sessions for residents every morning to get them prepared for a day of job hunting and searching for housing. In the evening, they have access to programs on life skills, anger management, nutrition and parenting.
The staff is particularly proud of the shelter’s children’s loft as well as a playground, which the Rotary Club helped build. The shelter will offer part-time day care to allow its adult residents more time in the day to find employment. The Leaven is expected to start after-school tutoring at the shelter next year.
There are plans to allow neighborhood children access to the playground as part of the shelter’s effort to be a part of the community and to help integrate shelter children with the neighborhood.
“Seventy percent of homeless (adults) had been in a shelter as a child. We are now offering programs for kids in order to break that chain,” Erdes said. “We are one of the few shelters in the country who are offering programming for children.”
There are plans for Kaiser Permanente to offer a clinic at the shelter once a week, which will be open not only to shelter occupants, but to the neighborhood as well.
Erdes said she and the staff are pleasantly surprised at the support the shelter has gotten from the immediate neighborhood.
“Those neighbors have been phenomenal and embraced us in ways which we did not expect,” Erdes said of support, which included help cleaning up tagging that happened recently.
Erdes said she is particularly proud of the massive amount of community support the project has gotten, with hundreds of volunteers who pitched in to help build and equip the shelter from organizations such as The Father’s House, Kaiser Permanente and Recology.
“We are very proud to be in Vacaville. This is Vacaville’s Opportunity House,” Erdes said.
Erdes said so much still needs to be done to help the community’s homeless. She pointed out last month’s Operation Homeless Connect had 193 homeless people show up for help and 11 of them were older than 55.
“That means we need programming directed to seniors in the community and we intend to do that,” Erdes said.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.