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HART launches new ‘warming center’ in Citrus Heights for homeless

Citrus Heights HART Coordinator Irene Hronicek hugs a guest at a warming center at Celtic Cross Presbyterian Church. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip—
Volunteers with a local nonprofit haven’t lost heart while masking up and adjusting their efforts to help the homeless amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Citrus Heights Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART) typically offers an overnight shelter for homeless guests during winter months, but volunteers this year have had to adjust the service in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19. Coordinator Irene Hronicek told The Sentinel guests are welcome to stay at a new rotating center during the day and are given some essential items to get them through the next few days.

“We’ve had some folks who are living in their cars (and) some folks who are camping who come with just a backpack,” Hronicek said. “They’re able to stay, warm up, charge everything. We offer them some food, and hand/foot warmers.”

A number of area churches host the program for one week on a rotating basis. For the past week, volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Citrus Heights Stake, were on hand at Celtic Cross Presbyterian Church to help guests access services.

Volunteer Karen Telford said she has been coordinating food distributions at Celtic Cross through the Bishop’s Storehouse, a food closet administered by her church.

The coronavirus pandemic has also changed how the food gets distributed, Telford said. In prior years, transportation was provided to bring people from an intake center to the churches for a meal and overnight stay, but this year volunteers must make the effort to bring lunches and supplies to homeless people throughout the community.

In addition to essential supplies and a place to come in out of the cold, guests were able to get a haircut on Friday. David Leon-Guerrero, who has been making progress through the HART program, was getting a haircut to be ready if a job interview should open up.

“Everybody here is constantly giving to me,” he said. “I’m just not used to it. Recognizing the kindness of strangers is just something now I completely believe. I kind of lost faith in that, I just thought everyone fend for yourself.”

Leon-Guerrero said he has experience in IT and property management. He is currently living in a hotel that Homeless Navigator Toni Morgan arranged for him. He hopes to continue making progress and find more permanent housing.

Hair stylist John Castillo provided the haircuts, saying he was glad to have the opportunity to give back to the community.

“I always like to help out whenever I can,” Castillo said. “I’m very busy, I work six-days-a-week, 12-hours-a-day, I feel very blessed that I love what I do.”

Hronicek said people like Leon-Guerrero who make the effort to better themselves will see the most benefit from the program.

“Citrus Heights HART is best able to help folks that are near homeless, or recently homeless,” she said. “Or folks living in their cars who are also still employed. That’s who we have classically been able to help.”

Antelope Road Christian Fellowship will be the next weekly host, with the warming center tentatively open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday-Friday.

Warming centers are slated to continue through Feb. 5, but organizers say the dates will be extended if more host sites and volunteers are lined up. Those interested in volunteering can visit citrusheightshart.org/winter-respite.

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