The H.O.S.T. house probably doesn’t resemble the first image that comes to mind when you hear the words homeless shelter. A nightly regimen of chores keeps the interior clean; guests eat communally, sleep two-to-a-room in their own beds, not cots, and on weekends, gather in the living room to watch movies together—a John Wayne boxset being a recent favorite.
Before dinner Saturday night, one of the shelter’s current guests, Karen Moore, grabs a banana, peeling stem down.
"Open the other end," Karen Briones, H.O.S.T. vice-chairman, tells her. "I learned the trick that you’re supposed to open a banana from the other end. Just squish it. It opens."
Moore lets out a surprised gasp after following her instructions, and house manager Steve Duran, witnessing it all, tries it himself, just as surprised by how easily the banana blooms.
"That’s my life lesson," Briones says.
This is an average night for the current group of guests at the H.O.S.T. (Helping Others Sleep Tonight) shelter, who Duran and Briones agree have become like a family. It’s the middle of the winter season, when the house opens up for overnight homeless sheltering starting in November.
Before coming to H.O.S.T., Moore, who is pregnant, and her partner Daniel Redoble were sleeping in the oleanders that grow along Highway 33.
"Now she’s safe, warm," Briones said. "She goes to her doctor’s appointments."
"Every single person in here, they have a different story," she added. "It’s amazing how they’ve come to where they’re at. This group, there’s not one same reason."
The organization typically provides overnight shelter until the beginning of April. This winter, however, H.O.S.T. has run out of funds early, and will only be able to house guests overnight until Jan. 31.
"We’re not taking overnight guests, but our managers still work here every day," Briones said "They help whoever needs help during the day."
This assistance includes a variety of services and supplies: Monday through Friday lunches; blankets, sleeping bags and hygiene products for those on the streets; help in acquiring identification documents; and more.
For the two months H.O.S.T. has been accepting guests, who stay 60 days each before having to move on, they’ve housed 31 people, 11 of which have been able to secure permanent housing.
Of the guests currently staying at the shelter, Briones said that all but two of them are on the track to obtaining housing.
Beyond accelerating the process of finding a permanent roof for its current guests’ heads, the Jan. 31 deadline means that H.O.S.T. will not be able to take in additional guests who could benefit from a warm bed and guiding hand.
"They’re here for 60 days. Our goal is to get them in permanent housing during that time," Briones said. "Our biggest appeal right now is just how to get grants and funding. We’ve talked to City Hall, because City Hall has a grant writer on retainer, and our understanding is, per their contract, they’re supposed to write grants for nonprofits in Patterson. So we’ve met with them several times, the city of Patterson, but nothing has ever come of it."
Patterson’s homeless population was recently in the spotlight, as they centralized last year in downtown parks. Briones spoke of complaints from residents who were persistently voicing that they want the problem taken care of, but not contributing meaningfully.
"And so we opened Nov. 1, but those people aren’t stepping forward to help us with funding or fundraising," Briones said. "We just need more community support, more city support. That’s the truth."
Duran added that while most agree homelessness is a major issue, there a lot of people who look down on the homeless and don’t necessarily want to assist them.
"And that’s the biggest thing is that a lot of people in the community don’t want to help the homeless, or they see a homeless person standing on the street as panhandling, and they don’t want to help, because they think it’s going to be for drugs or alcohol," Duran said. "We have people right now that are in very unfortunate circumstances. We have a guest that got a divorce, and his wife took all of his 401(k), so he’s homeless now. We have another one that’s been clean and sober. When he got here, he was five months clean. He’s been clean now for eight. … He’s here at the H.O.S.T. house, where he’s able to attend five meetings a week, six meetings a week, and come back to a safe, clean environment."
That safe, clean environment is something H.O.S.T. strives to maintain. They breathalyze guests as they check in at night, and won’t let anyone in who is visibly under the influence of drugs. Doing what they can to ensure their guests are successful, H.O.S.T. members don’t want people around who might influence them in the wrong direction, or make them stumble on a path to recovery.
"If I hadn’t come here in November, I probably wouldn’t be clean and sober today," guest Andrew Cruickshank said. "It’s been a blessing because it’s given me a chance to work on me."
H.O.S.T. is comprised of only seven board members, and two paid house managers—Duran and Lisa Torres. As such, the organization relies heavily on outside, volunteer support to run, and 92 percent of its funding last year came from community donations.
Briones stressed that while H.O.S.T. needs more community support, she doesn’t want to diminish the support it does receive.
"We have some local businesses that have been great to us, and some of the local churches are really good and give us monthly support, but not enough to keep us open," Briones said.
"I have, in my car right now, somebody just brought me a case of oranges and apples," she added. "So along with the really good volunteers that we have that cook for us, we do have people that think of us and drop stuff off and ask how they can help."
In a press release announcing that they are closing their overnight shelter early this season, the board of directors wrote that they "are still hopeful that we can secure the additional funding required to keep the doors open for overnight guests through the remaining winter months."
Those looking to donate to or volunteer with H.O.S.T., or tour the shelter, can call 209-895-4976. Interested community members can visit host-patterson.com as well, where they can find a PayPal link for donations, which can be also mailed to H.O.S.T., P.O. Box 1418, Patterson, CA 95363.
Nathan Duckworth can be reached at 209-892-6187 ext. 24 or email@example.com.