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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

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Winter shelter program kicks off with hot meals, lodging for homeless


Volunteers at Fair Oaks Church serve a hot meal to overnight guests on Friday night at a rotating Winter Sanctuary. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip—
For the past week, area churches have been working with the Citrus Heights Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART) to provide a hot meal and warm cot for people who would otherwise be sleeping outside.

On Friday night, guests began arriving at the program’s intake site at Messiah Lutheran Church, near Rusch Park. After going through a vetting process and leaving bicycles and other belongings in a secure storage area at the church, guests were then transported to Fair Oaks Church, where volunteers served a hot meal with chili and baked potatoes.

Nick Zeller, one of the guests on Friday night, said he was grateful for the volunteer’s efforts to provide a night of shelter, as temperatures dipped into the low 30s.

“To me, you guys don’t have to do this, and it’s frustrating to me when I see the guys come that don’t appreciate it,” he said. “You come in and get brand new clothes, shower, beautiful meal. They work so hard to do it, and they sit out here in the hallway and stay up all night long.”

Zeller said he has 20 years experience as an HVAC technician, but recently became homeless after a string of incidents including left him without a roof over his head.

“I lost my girl, my house, my car, my job, all in a matter of a month,” he said. “Then two days ago, somebody grabbed my backpack and stole my wallet and my phone. I can’t even go to the bank and take money out without my driver’s license and debit card.”

Lori Bally of Fair Oaks Church told The Sentinel in an interview that the church relies on volunteers to keep the program running.

“It takes a ton of volunteers,” Bally said adding she has a pool of about over 70 volunteers who perform tasks such as cooking and serving meals, making laundry runs, and overnight monitors. “The hardest part is the night shifts.”

The Winter Sanctuary program operates with the help of area churches who agree to serve as host sites for a week at a time, before the lodging rotates to another host site. Accommodations are typically provided for up to 20 people.

The 2022 Winter Sanctuary began Dec. 26 and is slated to run every night until February 26. Those interested in volunteering or offering a host site can visit www.citrusheightshart.org for more information.

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