Sobrato Center to Offer Special Services

Shelter will employ case managers and offer medical assistance
and job development
By stephanie Condon Special to the dispatch

Gilroy – When the Sobrato Transitional Center opens at the end of next year, it will offer more than just a place to crash for the neediest people in South County – it will offer a range of services, from medical assistance to job development, to help the homeless get back on their feet.

Unlike the National Guard Armory – which the new facility will replace – the Sobrato Center will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will include a full kitchen and a medical center. The Sobrato Center, a collaboration between the San Jose-based nonprofit Emergency Housing Consortium Lifebuilders and the nonprofit South County Housing, also will employ case managers to work individually with clients and will host a variety of educational workshops.

“Since the Armory is a temporary location, we can only stay there from 6pm to 6am,” said Hilary Barroga, EHC’s director of development and communications. “At the Sobrato Transitional Center we’ll be able to provide services during the day and more comprehensive offerings.”

While South County Housing has nearly finished building 60 long-term transitional apartments, EHC just recently received a $3-million donation that will enable it to complete the emergency shelter portion of the Sobrato Center.

According to Barroga, the emergency shelter is being modeled after the EHC’s Boccardo Reception Center in San Jose, but plans for the specific services that will be available at the new site have yet to be finalized.

The emergency shelter will be able to house up to 140 people, and will consist of 75 emergency shelter beds, 10 family units and 25 transitional housing units. Guests will be recommended for the family or transitional units by their case managers, said Maria Skoczylas, a member of the South County Housing board of directors and longtime volunteer.

The emergency shelter will include a kitchen, staffed by EHC employees and volunteers, that will serve three meals a day. Currently, the Boccardo Center sends food down to Gilroy daily, and groups such as local churches and individuals often donate meals to the homeless as well, Skoczylas said.

Occupants also will be able to receive regular medical attention.

“We haven’t done any sort of contracting yet for the shelter,” Barroga said. “We are building space for a medical clinic, so it is something we’re interested in providing there, whether it’d be permanent or something that comes in once or twice a week.”

Shuttles will provide transportation for guests of Sobrato, perhaps going as far as San Jose depending on the need, Skoczylas said.

In addition to covering basic needs, the shelter will include case managers who work individually with clients to help meet their needs, Barroga said.

Staff members, as well as experts from the community, will host workshops covering such topics as nutrition, job development and searching for housing. There also will be a computer lab in the shelter, as well as on-site Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, Barroga said.

Ernie Vasquez, a homeless man from South County, said he would like to see his basic needs met at the new shelter, but is interested in the additional services as well.

“I stayed over there in the Armory Inn and they had showers and clothes and a bed, but the new center sounds pretty good,” he said. “Employment services would be really good – it’s helpful to get you back on your feet. It’d be good to have some support groups if you have drug or alcohol problems to keep your mind positive.”

Many of these positions will be held by local volunteers, who are vital to the programs, Barroga and Skoczylas emphasized, and hundreds of volunteers are expected to assist the regular staff.

EHC expects to hire between 10 and 20 regular staff members, depending on the amount of funding it can raise and the specific programs it will ultimately provide. The operating expenses for the Boccardo Center in San Jose are funded by a variety of public and private sources, Barroga said. Specific numbers won’t be known until programs are selected prior to the center’s opening.

The Boccardo Center in San Jose utilizes “client volunteer service,” a program that could be implemented at the Sobrato Center to cut down on costs.

“The facility is tidied and cleaned by the clients for extra privileges such as a bed where as the other clients have to enter a lottery in the emergency shelter when it’s full,” Barroga said.

Skoczylas emphasized the many ways community members can get involved with the shelter.

“We’re not only going to need the support of volunteers to work there, but to furnish it,” she said. “All these funds that we get, there are certain things that you can’t do with them. We’re going to need thousands of towels, for example.”

Skoczylas said EHC will break ground for the emergency shelter in November, and it is scheduled to open at the end of next year. The Armory will not close, however, until the new center is complete.

Anyone interested in volunteering or donating may call EHC at 539-2100.

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