ONTARIO — Ontario’s temporary pilot emergency homeless shelter project has ceased operation as of April 30, its scheduled end date. The former shelter site, located on North Oregon Street, is situated on a lot owned by the City of Ontario. The city is one of the three entities, along with Community in Action and Origins Faith Community, that spearheaded the temporary shelter project. Origins Faith Community’s pastor James Vogt had said that the church’s involvement with the project concluded with the closure of the shelter site.
The shelter, comprising tiny homes, was a pilot project to provide winter shelter for the homeless. While an extension on the project had been a point of discussion prior to the closure, neighboring businesses and residents voiced concern over furthering the project past its scheduled ending date.
Compounding the situation is the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic that continues to alter the way that goods and services are distributed throughout the community as well as how communication is conducted.
Ontario City Manager Adam Brown, in an email received on Wednesday morning, described some steps that city officials are taking in response to the shelter site closure and what it means for the post-project evaluation.
“Barb [Higinbotham], Heather [Echeveste], Clayton Crowhurst, and I met for an initial planning session following the closure. My next steps following our meeting is to organize a meeting with the neighbor and stakeholder group for us and I am also reaching out to the inter-faith community for a separate meeting with the four of us. We hope to get these scheduled soon, but these are difficult times so it’s a little in flux,” explained Brown.
Community in Action’s Executive Director, Barb Higinbotham, echoed Brown’s sentiment about the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic in an email message also sent on Wednesday morning.
“Adam is right, it is a different world than when we started the project. Meeting with folks is more difficult than it was before COVID-19,” said Higinbotham.
She also explained how Heather Echeveste, Housing Programs Manager with Community in Action, compiled the detailed information that had been gathered over the life the project and said that there were some “great outcomes.”
“We also have several opportunities that we are exploring for the structures that will continue the options for shelter in our area. More details will follow as we further explore options,” said Higinbotham.
Echeveste sent an update email on Wednesday morning describing her involvement with the shelter project and shared her perspective.
“Through the shelter pilot project we were able to shelter 39 families made up of 63 individuals. Of those 39 families we were able to assist 8 families find permanent supportive housing, helped 2 people find jobs, and 2 people keep their jobs. We were also able to reunite 4 families with their families where they were able to go and stay while we continue to work with them to find housing,” wrote Echeveste.
She also said that some families did have to be sheltered in hotel rooms saying that two households had serious health issues that required a “higher level of medical care” and two households had newborns.
“One story that I would like to highlight is reuniting a male youth with his family in Arkansas. He had no identification, social security card or birth certificate. Our Youth Advocate was able to help him get in contact with his family and through the National Runaway Hotline (NRHL 1-800-786-2929) he was given a bus ticket to get home. He arrived safely in Arkansas on May 9th, just in time for Mother’s Day,” explained Echeveste.