It’s a cold evening in late January in Sacramento. About 100 people gather for dinner, some festivities, and a warm place to sleep.

The meal is simple but filling; the activities, goofy and energetic, bringing smiles to those that partake. The place to sleep? A rotund outer area of a worship center, that of Arcade Church in the Arden-Arcade Area. The “guests” here aren’t members of the congregation, they are homeless. They are settling in for a night’s rest at what’s known as Winter Sanctuary.

Emily Halcon: “I’m Emily Halcon and I’m the Homeless Services Coordinator for the City of Sacramento. Winter Sanctuary is a rotating shelter, it happens during the winter months, from Thanksgiving through March and different faith based organizations host sanctuary on a weekly, or sometimes nightly basis.”

Faith-based organizations and volunteers are committed to creating an experience for the guests – not simply a one night stand. Pastor Dann oversees the program at Arcade Church and tells us that most of his guests want to make a mark on the world.

Pastor Dann: “Recognizing that all of our guests, the people that we serve, each has a story, each comes from a very different background, and it’s sad to say that there is probably two dozen here that we see every year and that tells me okay, there’s something else; they may not even consider themselves candidates and they may like the street life so they’re going to be, much harder to redirect, you know, if they like where they’re at. They’ve learned how to navigate the system and so forth.”

Winter Sanctuary in Sacramento

Program lead Tom Platina has worked with Winter Sanctuary for the past three years and describes what goes into the shelter.

Tom Platina: “We try to be very service minded. We call them guests. We don’t call them clients or anything. We don’t ask them or require anything of them. So, it’s pretty simple when it comes to what the program is about but a lot does go into it.”

None of the guests we interviewed seemed “resigned” to living their life homeless. No one was said they were willing to give up dreams of a different life.

“Well my goal now is to pay off this fine that I got and once I get that paid off then I’d start looking for a home.”

Big Kevin, as he’s known, spoke on many issues, he’s well aware of alternative options that could help get him off the street. He is not atypical.

Big Kevin: “The programs are good, it’s just how people view and want to be able to use them. Because, it’s not the programs that are bad, if you really want to get to a point of betterment, then you have to try to get better.”

While not all take up the offers, those doing the offering are as being kind and compassionate.

“Things can be done, it’s just a matter of people stepping up. People like you going, ‘Okay, we’re going to do this,” you know? And we got to band together, the community, and everybody put in whether it’s financially or physically, but everybody’s got to want to help.”

As complex of an issue as homelessness is, imagine the individual, who is infinitely more complex than a single path or solution. Getting off the streets truly requires a continuum of care.

Winter Sanctuary in Sacramento

Emily Halcon, “What does this program mean to you?”

“…Oh my god, the abject terror of being out on the streets is ameliorated for a few months. Being a single female outside, is no joke. You know the fact of that matter is that this is safe, this is warm and there’s food, there’s restrooms.”

Delilah, a staff member of the Winter Sanctuary program talks about success stories of those that were previously visiting, year after year.

Delilah: “Last year we didn’t have any resources. They could come to us and we would be like ‘What?’ you know, ‘I’ll look into that,’ or ‘Let me ask,’ you know. And now it’s like well let me hook you up with this person and that person’s got all the connections, that’s the navigator.”

Emily Halcon: “And are you seeing people like move on? Like are you seeing people and you don’t see them anymore and that’s a good thing?”

Delilah: “Yes, yes, I’ve seen somebody from last year that found housing this year and it was because of a navigator.”

The navigators that Delilah refer to work in shelters, like Winter Sanctuary, and on the streets to help connect people with resources and services to ultimately get them in to permanent housing.

Though it’s easy to be disheartened by hearing that only a handful of people are engaging in services, but for that handful, is it a huge success.

A night at the Winter Sanctuary is a night in from the cold. But by itself it’s not a means to an end of homelessness. Permanent housing is the ultimate goal. The City helps sponsor multiple efforts by supporting Sacramento Steps Forward – a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the homeless find a permanent home. Learn more about Sacramento Steps Forward.

More information can be found at the City’s Homeless Coordination page.