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A cart with the belongings of a woman experiencing homelessness sits at the winter sanctuary on Jan. 31 as other guests eat a hot meal. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip—
A rotating shelter program in Citrus Heights that offers those experiencing homelessness a hot meal and a place to sleep during the coldest and wettest winter months is underway and seeing more new faces this year, organizers say.

The Winter Sanctuary program operates annually 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.

This year’s program began Jan. 1 and is slated to continue through Feb. 25, 2023.

Guests gather at Messiah Lutheran Church at 7801 Rosswood Drive where they register and store their belongings for the night. From there, they are taken by bus to the host church where they are provided a hot meal, sleeping arrangements, and a sack lunch the next morning.

Celtic Cross Presbyterian Church hosted the most recent week that began Sunday, Jan. 29. During a visit by Sentinel staff on Tuesday, volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints, Citrus Heights Stake, were on hand to help.

Citrus Heights Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART) President Irene Hronicek said she is seeing more first-time guests taking advantage of the program as a result of efforts by the Citrus Heights Police Department and the homeless navigators who are making contact with individuals who need assistance.

Hronicek said about 14 guests arrived to the intake center at Messiah Lutheran Church near Rusch Park on Tuesday, Jan. 31. Some previous guests of the program have been reunited with family, and one is in a recovery and sober living program, Hronicek said.

Volunteer Denise Hinkson said the efforts from homeless navigators Gabby Yost and Yvette Horst to offer resources to people she encounters are paying off.

“Fewer repeats this year, we have a lot of new clients,” Hinkon said. “Some of that is attributed to Gabby and Yvette and the work that they’re doing in our community all year round that’s funneling newer folks back to us and back to our services.”

Guest Kimberly Hines is one who has benefited from those services. Hines said she passed a personal milestone on Tuesday, celebrating 31 days of sobriety from a meth addiction that began more than 20 years ago.

Staff from Dignity Health was on-hand Tuesday night to provide first aid and health care advice to guests of the program. Elena Casey, RN said she typically sees guests with minor wounds and pain complaints. Casey also helps guests with Medicare cards and gives advice, trying to stress the importance of seeing a doctor. Many homeless people treat themselves, Casey said.

“They only come to me if they’ve been treating something that hasn’t healed,” Casey said, noting that people with unhealed wounds are often diabetic. “I can give them more supplies than they have. It’s amazing, if you’re going to live on the street and survive, you’ve got to be pretty tough.”

President of the Relief Society at the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints, Citrus Heights Stake, Bev Bair, said about 10 volunteers from the church participated Tuesday night, with some taking overnight shifts with guests.

Bair said helping others is an expression of her faith.

“For me personally, it is part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ,” Bair said. “I need to serve as He would serve, and He served those who needed help, so anyone who needs help, I do what I can.”

Those seeking more information can visit citrusheightshart.org/programs/winter-sanctuary, and volunteers can register at: JustServe.org or HandsOnSacto.org and searching for “Citrus Heights HART Winter Sanctuary” on the sites.

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