Merced’s warming center moved, will get upgrades

12/11/2013 8:50 PM

12/11/2013 11:51 PM

A Merced warming center, a haven for anyone seeking protection from cold nights, has moved across town.

The 10-cot warming center, which has been behind the Merced Rescue Mission since last week, was moved to the recreation yard of the former juvenile hall on B Street, south of 13th Street.

“One of the reasons for moving was there were safety concerns for children,” said Bruce Metcalf, executive director of the mission.

Homeless advocates agree that many issues related to Merced’s homeless could be fixed with a 24-hour shelter, not just a temporary facility for use on cold nights. But a permanent shelter would need funding and a landowner willing to sell, which haven’t materialized yet.

One of the concerns was the safety of the people in and around the mission when the warming center was in use there. Next door to the mission is the Central Presbyterian Church, which often is used during the evening for programs for children and teens.

Curtis Riggs, an elder with the church, said the warming center is open to all comers, which heightens security concerns. He said the new location probably is better for everyone.

The warming center is now two blocks from the D Street Shelter, which opens its doors to any adult who declares themselves homeless. However, when the shelter is full, staff members turn people away. Riggs said now, “They can send them right around the corner.”

“It just seems like a much more secure area,” Riggs said, noting the recreation yard at the old juvenile hall is fenced.

He said the partnership between the church and the mission extends beyond just being neighbors. A few church elders are part of the governing board for the mission, and the church lends the mission financial, leadership and other support.

Riggs said he is working to add tarps to the warming center to better cover some of the openings and he wants improve the lighting and generator. “The long-term solution is to have a building somewhere,” he said.

Metcalf said he has tried to get access to a public building that could be used as a center, but to no avail.

The Merced County Board of Supervisors this week approved the use of the former juvenile hall’s yard. The mission will pay $1 a month for its use, and Metcalf said that would continue through March 31.

Metcalf said acquiring the use of a vacant building, such as the former juvenile hall, would likely be a lengthy process. “There’s so many hoops, and we need an immediate answer,” he said, pointing to the warming center.

A committee of residents and business owners in town have been working for several months on a plan to buy land and build a 24-hour shelter.

E.J. Almo Lorenzi, a member of the committee, said his group has had some difficulty finding land for the facility. “Everybody wants the program, but it’s the old story, ‘I don’t want it next door,’” he said.

The facility would have to be 1,000 feet from a school or other place with children, Lorenzi said, so that adds to the difficulty of finding a spot.

Lorenzi said the committee has begun a campaign to get 300 businesses, groups or individuals to commit to pay $100 a month for two years to bring the facility to fruition but that will take some time.

“We’re making a lot of progress,” he said.

The shelter will remain open every night through March, and some may need it this week. Temperatures on Wednesday night were expected to dip into the high 20s, according to meteorologist Brian Ochs of the National Weather Service.

Ochs said the lows will remain in the low to mid-30s into early next week. The daily highs will break into the 60s, he said.

For more information on the Merced Rescue Mission at 1921 Canal St., stop by any day from 7 a.m to 9 p.m. or call (209) 722-9269.

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