Community leaders gather for homeless shelter meeting

Jim Currier stands in his warehouse at 8425 Monterey St. that he

What began as one man’s encounter with a


homeless individual in December has snowballed into a
communitywide effort to establish a permanent, year-round shelter
offering temporary refuge and the necessary tools to get Gilroy’s
less fortunate back on their feet. Full article
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What began as one man’s encounter with a “freezing” homeless individual in December has snowballed into a communitywide effort to establish a permanent, year-round shelter offering temporary refuge and the necessary tools to get Gilroy’s less fortunate back on their feet.

To make this vision a reality, however, facilitators will have to acquire nonprofit status, $400,000 in renovation funds to get their building up to code, a plan for longterm economic viability and an army of volunteers possessing a spectrum of skills.

Since December 2010 Jim Currier, a volunteer involved with the National Guard Armory on Wren Avenue and St. Joseph’s Family Center on Church Street for several years, has kick-started a project to aid the city in establishing a permanent homeless shelter in Gilroy – a hurdle that’s been attempted previously without success.

A gymnasium full of vested community members – prominent leaders including David Cox, executive director of St. Joseph’s Family Center; Mayor Al Pinheiro; City Councilman Dion Bracco; Red Cross officials; downtown developer Gary Walton and Chief Denise Turner of the Gilroy Police Department gathered for an informative group breakfast from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 7999 Miller Avenue.

“This can’t be on the county, state or federal government,” said Currier, addressing the audience. “It has got to be community-based. We can do it our way, and we can do it right.”

Currier owns Flowstar, Inc., a company at 6800 Silacci Way that creates modular clean rooms. He’s offering to designate a large portion of his 42,500-square-feet industrial structure at 8425 Monterey St., which has become superfluous space.

The purpose of the meeting was to get everyone on the same page about what the shelter is – and isn’t.

“This is not the same thing that was brought to the community 10 years ago,” differentiated Jan Bernstein-Chargin, a project leader.

Bernstein-Chargin is the director of communications for Gavilan College and is also involved with Leadership Gilroy.

As she addressed the audience Bernstein-Chargin shared for the first time publicly she was once homeless.

“If you’ve never been in that situation, once you’re out of the game, it’s really hard to get back in,” she said. “Imagine waking up under a tree and then going out to look for a job.”

There needs to be a way for people to get back in, she said. Gilroy doesn’t have this kind of resource.

Bernstein-Chargin highlighted the next big steps include forming an officially recognized nonprofit structure, which will allow shelter administrators to apply for certain grants. Planning committees with volunteers such as accountants, lawyers, fundraisers, painters and contractors also need to be set up. Currently one-third of the renovation blueprints have been drawn up pro bono by Reid Lerner & Associates from Gilroy and Sezen & Moon Structural Engineering in San Jose. Once they gain nonprofit status, Currier said, they can apply for the funding it will take to get the potential shelter facility up to code.

Funding and economic sustainability, naturally, are paramount concerns.

“That’s the big question mark,” said Pinheiro. “The challenge is funding … right now every door you knock on in government is closed.”

Looking around at all the tables filled with different groups who showed up for gathering, Pinheiro said if the shelter is going to happen, these people will be the ones to do it.

The meeting also addressed recurring concerns such as, “Will having a shelter open 365 days a year attract more homeless to Gilroy to take advantage of its services?”

If that theory was true, Bracco argued, Gilroy’s homeless would be flocking to San Jose – which has a higher number of established outreach services such as One Stop Centers. These wrap-around programs target chronically homeless adults with a variety of resources on hand all the time.

“These folks, this is their home,” he said. “I see homeless people I went to school with 40 years ago; even neighbors. The face of homelessness has changed. It is no longer all the drug addicts and mental patients. There’s families out there that just need a hand.”

Bracco also pointed out city officials are concerned with economic development and attracting new business ventures/people to Gilroy. The way a city treats its less fortunate, he reminded, leaves a lasting impression and is a direct reflection on the city.

Bernstein-Chargin said the project will happen in stages, beginning with a “clean, safe, respectful emergency shelter with base services such as educational and job training,” followed by additional outreach agencies.

As for the building Currier said it needs bathrooms, new electricity and sprinklers, but there are “no show-stoppers” with the edifice.

“There’s nothing that can’t be done,” he said. “We know we can turn it into something acceptable for code.”

Right now they’re looking at start-up renovation costs of $400,000 – which is better compared to $3.3 million, Currier noted. That’s what Gilroy was looking at in one prior attempt that involved building a brand new shelter from the ground up.

“This is not the same proposal,” noted Bernstein-Chargin. “Let’s try it differently. Not from the ground up – it won’t have a red tile roof. But let’s renovate the existing building that we have. Let’s see what we can do with some paint and some donated trees. We tried doing something real big, and that didn’t work. We tried doing nothing to see if the problem would go away, and it didn’t.”

Gilroy manages to attract 80,000 people on the hottest weekend in July every year to eat garlic ice cream, she added.

“We can do this.”

Gilroy Compassion Center

– Goals: To serve Gilroy with a dedicated shelter for the homeless, ideally offering year-round services

– Location: 8425 Monterey St. in Gilroy

– Benchmarks: Forming a nonprofit organization to serve as the lead agency, raising $400,000 for site renovations, renovating 6,000 square feet of donated space, partnering with experienced agencies to pert cold-weather shelter, develop day services, develop funding for year-round operation, add educational, job development and additional services