Heart and Home Collaborative, a startup that sheltered homeless Palo Alto women last year during the coldest winter months, will not open this year after a change in city permitting and a decline in volunteer staffing, board members told the Weekly.
The shelter, which was started by Stanford University students as part of their outreach efforts to the city's homeless population, offered food, bedding and warmth to women who otherwise risked assaults and hypothermia.
Last year the shelter had temporary-use permits from the City of Palo Alto to house the women in volunteer local churches. But the city has a 45-day limit on a temporary-use permit. Heart and Home would need a conditional-use permit at each of its church sites for longer stays, which would cost more than $4,400 per site, city spokeswoman Claudia Keith confirmed. That cost put a damper on plans to open the shelter this year, student coordinator Aparna Ananthasubramaniam said.
"Unfortunately, we can't open the shelter. We are planning on doing something else with the resources," Ananthasubramaniam said, but she declined to define what the other actions might be since the organization is still working on making a decision.
"We are looking to open the shelter next year, and we are working very hard toward that," she added.
Besides the costs, another difficulty the organization faced was the process for churches of engaging with neighbors who might be concerned about the shelter. Heart and Home wants to give participating churches time to work out details with neighbors, she said.
Alan Hebert, a University Lutheran Church liaison committee member with Heart and Home when the church hosted the shelter in College Terrace last winter, said the upfront costs are huge.
"It wasn't because we didn't like Heart and Home or because of bad experiences," he said. "The neighborhood engaged with us in a way it never had before, and more people in our congregation did something with Heart and Home than with anything else anyone could remember," he said. There were lessons the church learned along the way about communicating with neighbors, he said.
But a large part of the church's decision to hold off for this year was because the church had to kick out other organizations it regularly hosted during the month it opened the shelter, he said. The collaborative would also need to be better organized, he said.
"Heart and Home, their mission really is our mission. Just because we're not hosting the shelter doesn't mean we don't support them," Hebert said. He said he is researching other ways to help the shelter.
In a Dec. 2 email, Heart and Home board member Chuck Jagoda pointed to a tandem issue affecting the shelter's future operations.
"Our problem is there are fewer and fewer student volunteers. We're utilizing help from community members but are in danger of losing the student element especially if things continue as they are and have been for months now," he wrote to interested persons and organizations. Heart and Home made recruitment efforts for more than nine months without much success, he said.
"Volunteers show up without much trouble once the shelter is open, and that all works well for everyone. What we need are volunteers for administrative, organizational things," he wrote.
Prior to the official decision not to run the shelter, Keith said the city had been in talks with the shelter volunteers regarding permits, but how such a permit would have been structured was not determined. Palo Alto's other rotating emergency shelter, Hotel deZink, operates under conditional-use permits for its sites, she added.