Victor Valley Community Warming Shelter Takes On New Role
VICTORVILLE, CA – April 6, 2020: The Victor Valley Community Warming Shelter opened in November of 2019 to house the homeless in the High Desert during the coldest nights of the winter. Originally, the plan was for the shelter to stay open during nights when temperatures dropped below 40 degrees, and the shelter was going to close on March 26th. But, due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak and the local government’s response to it, the warming shelter is now a 24/7 facility where the homeless can voluntarily quarantine to stay safe from the pandemic.
During an interview with the manager of the shelter conducted days after they opened for the season, Monica Feasel, a Phelan resident, described their mission as vital because they could be saving lives. The shelter is located inside the Victor Valley Transportation Center in Victorville. Before March 18th, it ran from 6:15pm until 6am, and was able to house up to 80 people. Through donations, they paid two security guards to be there every night they were open, paid rent, and were still able to provide their guests with soup, coffee, and hot chocolate. Since March 18th, the role of the warming shelter has changed.
Now that the city is supporting them and providing tools to be able to house the homeless around the clock, the shelter has become a place for positive change. Guests now receive three meals a day and are provided with regular showers and access to do laundry. The closing date is now postponed indefinitely. To Feasel, these are blessings. “The city is now starting to join in and send us the essentials that we need,” she says. “Because of the pandemic, now I have a washer and dryer. And because of the pandemic, I have a mobile shower unit three days a week.” However, being allowed to stay at the shelter comes with very strict rules.
Currently, the shelter houses 31 guests—a huge decrease from November, and way under the capacity that has recently been moved to 100. “Why you’re seeing a low number as of right now is because as a 24-hour facility, they are mandated to adapt to the rules that we have in place. And, a lot of people are not willing to stay here 24 hours a day and not being able to leave,” she explains. This means that the Victor Valley Community Warming Shelter is one of the few shelters remaining accepting guests. New guests are required to quarantine in an isolation room for three days before being allowed to join the rest of the group. During that time, their temperature is taken three times a day to check for signs of a fever, a symptom of COVID-19. Because there is only one quarantine room, the facility can only take new guests every three days. If a guest does decide to leave for whatever reason, for the safety of the others, they are not allowed back. For guests not in isolation, every three hours, everything stops, and surfaces in the building are wiped down and disinfected. Smoke breaks are taken as an entire group to ensure everyone returns from them, and no one has left to go somewhere else. Regular handwashing, bathing, and washing of their clothes are also a must. While this last part may seem like common sense, for people who have been homeless for a long period of time, this can all be very jarring. Since moving to 24 hours a day, four guests have voluntarily left.
In Feasel’s opinion, the homeless community is largely uninformed about the seriousness of the virus. “With homeless, they don’t have access to social media and the television that really describe what it is” she says, referring to the virus. “They’re not seeing what everyone’s watching on TV. They’re noticing now because we’re bringing it to the forefront for them.” On March 25th, the warming shelter brought in a local Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD), Dr. Shawn Smith to have a Q&A with the guests. The doctor now checks in with the shelter daily and is available throughout the day by text. Informing the homeless community about the facts of the virus is something Feasel feels is important to combat it. The city of Victorville has also put up six portable restrooms and handwashing stations around the city so that the homeless not willing to quarantine still have a place to perform proper hygiene.
Besides working as the Manager for the warming shelter, Feasel is also the Secretary for the Principal of Phelan Elementary. Since schools have closed, she volunteers at the shelter from 6am until 11pm on most days. With the close proximities people live in at the shelter, this puts volunteers like her and the others running the shelter at a higher risk of catching this disease. But she understands the risks and says she will continue at her post. “I have to be here for my neighbors and do it for my neighbors and be helpful to them,” she confesses. “I know that I’m supposed to be here.” Her hard work has even been noticed and appreciated by the residents at the shelter, she says. She can see it by how they now show concern for her by reminding her to put on her mask and to wash her hands often.
What Feasel wants the public to remember about the homeless is that not all of them want to be where they are. “Not every homeless person is a drug addict. And not every homeless person had control over the things that made them homeless.” So far this season, there have been 42 successful stories at the Victor Valley Community Warming Shelter, where guests were able to find a way off the streets. The shelter has a Facebook page where donations can be made.