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The Emergency Shelter Program–Located at the Santa Rosa National Guard Armory

(Photos By Photojournalist Luz Elena Castro)

Homeless Girl

IFSN began proactively addressing homelessness in Sonoma County in 1989 when our founders recognized an unacceptable condition: an escalating population of homeless people in our affluent community! Thus, the Emergency Shelter Program was born in the hearts of the faith based community–philanthropic men and women who took action, formed a hands-on, interdenominational coalition, and seized an opportunity to provide seasonal shelter at the armory. Wesley Ebert, Helen Vinsick, William Ronchelli and Daniel Shay were the first officers on the IFSN Board of Directors. Without them, literally thousands of people would not have had a warm, dry, safe haven for the night every year for 15 years!

But, use of the armory for a homeless shelter was challenging for everyone, especially the homeless and the National Guard. It was an unholy marriage…a dysfunctional family! MANY limitations and restrictions applied:

  • Seasonal Operational Periods: October through April, but "Weather Driven" for the first six weeks and the last two weeks of the season, with an exception: Armory could not be used for shelter during National Guard "drill"—one weekend per month.
  • “Weather Driven” during the first six weeks and the last two weeks of the operational period, the armory was allowed to operate only when weather was below 40 degrees or below 50 degrees AND raining.
  • Hours of Operation: 7 PM to 6 AM (no matter what the weather)
  • ALL supplies and equipment had to be removed during non–operational hours: tables, chairs, bedding, food, cleaning and cooking/serving equipment; this required moving EVERYTHING into giant storage containers in the parking lot (storage bins added to cost of operation).
  • Professional maintenance people had to be employed to clean bathrooms every day (added cost).
  • Every homeless person entering had to be checked by a security guard with a metal detector, and all of their possessions searched for contraband (security guard added cost).

The Governor of California, in reaction to unusually cold weather during the winter of 1987, directed the California National Guard to make the state’s armories available as temporary homeless shelters. IFSN provided homeless shelter and supportive services at the armory–temporarily–until 2004! In all–26 armories were utilized (a few are still being utilized), but the Santa Rosa Armory is no longer operational. The homeless are now redirected (see below).

After many unsuccessful attempts to relocate the armory, the shelter strategy in Sonoma County changed. We [IFSN] evolved along with the changing picture of homeless shelters in our community. In anticipation of the inevitable–armory replacement, dwindling local funding, the increased need for effective, structured year–round housing with coordinated services–we strategically developed the Transitional Housing Program (THP) and implemented the first facility–“Wesley House”–in 1999.

IF YOU ARE HOMELESS AND NEED EMERGENCY SHELTER, PLEASE click on the following for information:

SEE: to access additional homeless resources and contact information for homeless service providers.