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Citrus Heights HART calls winter shelter for homeless a success

Winter shelter, HART. Luke Otterstad, photo credit
Volunteers serve homeless guests a hot meal at a local church as part of a local winter shelter program. // CH Sentinel

By Thomas J. Sullivan–
The Citrus Heights Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART) is calling this year’s “Winter Sanctuary” program to temporarily house the city’s homeless a qualified success, with an eye towards increasing participation next year.

“Seventy-six homeless guests showed up at least once during this year’s Winter Sanctuary program,” said Stan Munoz, a Citrus Heights HART board member who spoke on behalf of Irene Hronicek, chairperson for Winter Sanctuary at HART’s monthly meeting on March 28 at Holy Family Church in Citrus Heights.

The annual rotating winter shelter program concluded on Feb. 23, 2019, and began on Dec. 30 last year.

Munoz and homeless navigator Toni Morgan gave members a statistical summary of this year’s program during the meeting, along with an overview of lessons learned. Morgan acts as the main outreach specialist and works to assess and provide connections to services for those experiencing homelessness.

Related: What does the Citrus Heights homeless navigator do?

“Last year there were 69 participants in Winter Sanctuary,” Morgan said. Interest in the program was up considerably due to unseasonably heavy winter rains, she added.

Munoz also said this year’s response was better. He said “many came in to the application process early, and care groups who were involved in the screening process we reached them much sooner.”

“Some 25 people came to register in just the first week of Winter Sanctuary. There were 2-3 homeless guests per night we just couldn’t fit in. Our average was 28-29 guests per host site per week,” Munoz said. Twelve homeless guest participants in last year’s Winter Sanctuary program returned to participate again this year.

The Winter Sanctuary is an annual rotating emergency shelter program for Citrus Heights homeless residents hosted by the local faith-based community during the cold weather months. The program also includes volunteer training, on-site staffing for an overnight period and preparation and serving of a warm dinner meal.

“Without the ongoing commitment of all volunteers involved in Winter Sanctuary each year, the program wouldn’t be effective,” Munoz said.

Messiah Lutheran Church served as one of three intake sites. No pets, weapons, drugs or alcohol are allowed among those 18 years or older who participate in Winter Sanctuary. Dinner and a to-go breakfast are served to homeless-guest participants who are furnished a cot and sleeping bag at each hosting site. Secure overnight storage for small items including a bicycle were also offered.

Hronicek spoke to The Sentinel last week by telephone and shared some success stories, including several homeless guests in the Winter Sanctuary who were successfully matched with resources and services to reconnect with family members who were actively looking for them.

“I’m usually on hand to give specific thanks to all of those involved who make such a considerable difference in the lives of so many,
Hronicek said, noting the volunteer work of churches and others who contributed hundred of hours to the effort. “We can’t thank them enough.”

Each homeless guest who sought to participate in Winter Sanctuary was registered, photographed, searched for weapons and contraband such as drugs before being cleared to participate in Winter Sanctuary.

“We’re trying to meet the homeless where they are, and respecting who they are,” Hroncek said.

Triaging the mental health, drug and alcohol counseling and personal needs of each Winter Sanctuary participant is critical, she said. “We want to respond as efficiently as possible to each of their needs.”

“We want to increase our ability to provide mental health services to our guests and especially first aid care. Many guest participants in Winter Sanctuary had some very urgent medical issues. There were some who needed an immediate infusion of antibiotics and these needed to be taken to local emergency rooms,” she said.

Hronicek said the volunteers and board members of Citrus Heights HART seek to give their homeless guests the health and medical resources they need to take care of themselves. “We have to take care of their basic needs and help them to become the person they were intended to be.”

Munoz, a longtime HART member, credits the Citrus Heights Police Department’s positive attitude towards community policing as changing how the homeless are viewed. CHPD began its month-long annual count of the homeless in the city on April 1.

“Being homeless isn’t itself a crime. These people need the support of our entire community if we, as a city are going to be successful in working with this population, said Munoz. “We have to build public trust and actively encourage those who need assistance to register with the Citrus Heights Navigator.”

“We recognize over 200 homeless in our community but the actual count could be greater,” he said. Morgan expects the officers of CHPD will do as thorough a count as possible.

“The better we are able to get an accurate account, the better we can help them. It takes the whole community to be involved,” Morgan said.

Munoz hopes the annual Winter Sanctuary program can take in more homeless guest participants next year. To do so will require the involvement, partnership and participation of many more community groups to work cooperatively to add available space to the program.

Host locations this year included Advent Lutheran Church, Antelope Road Christian Fellowship, Celtic Cross Presbyterian Church, Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Citrus Heights Stake, the LDS Church Relief Society, and Holy Family Catholic Church.

Helper organizations included the City of Citrus Heights Navigator, Rotary Club of Orangevale, Citrus Heights Police Activities League, Elica Healthcare Services and A Community for Peace.

Donations and additional host and helper churches are being sought for next year’s Winter Sanctuary program. Those interested can contact Irene Hronicek at (916) 220-3615 or by email at

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