Merced County supervisors are meeting behind closed doors to discuss leasing part of the old county hospital’s parking lot to the Merced County Rescue Mission for its warming center.
The center, which is a tent with large heaters and cots, offers the homeless a place to find warmth during the cold winter months, usually from December to March. But a lack of volunteers halted the process this year and the homeless braved the last few months of icy temperatures without a center.
Rescue Mission leaders say it’s not too late and they’re willing to manage the tent if volunteers and a good location are found. County supervisors discussed leasing the hospital parking lot, adjacent to 15th Street in Merced, to the Rescue Mission for $1 a month.
The county property has been vacant since the hospital closed years ago, with only a portion of the building being used as a warehouse for county equipment. The warming center was set up nearby on 13th Street last year, but officials say the old hospital property is a better location.
It’s right across from the D Street shelter, allowing better access for homeless individuals. “This is the spot they asked for and it works for us just fine,” said Merced County Public Works Director Dana Hertfelder. He estimated lease negotiations with the county should conclude within a few weeks.
If approved by county supervisors, the lease agreement would run through June, Hertfelder said.
The Merced City Council, which provides $7,000 in funding for the warming center through a Community Development Block Grant, unanimously approved allocating the funding during its meeting Monday.
Rescue Mission CEO Bruce Metcalf said his organization ran the warming center the last three years, but couldn’t find volunteers to continue the effort this year.
“We basically stepped up to the plate three years ago when no one was doing it, and there was an outcry for a warming center,” Metcalf said. “If other people can step up to the plate and help find volunteers, we’re happy to do our part.”
At least four full-time volunteers are needed to supervise the warming tent overnight, Metcalf said.
Merced resident Renee Davenport, a longtime advocate for the homeless, took the lead in finding volunteers. Thus far, Davenport said, two full-time volunteers and six churches have expressed interest.
“I have gotten an overwhelming amount of volunteers from the community and churches that are willing to go there and man it every night,” Davenport said. “I feel it’s the city and county’s responsibility to give the property, then the volunteers can come in and support it.”