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Freezing temperatures spur emergency shelter for Placer’s homeless

Gathering Inn drops some requirements to increase number staying at shelter
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Restrictions have been loosened to allow virtually all of Auburn’s homeless population to find shelter from the cold in Auburn.

Suzi de Fosset, Gathering Inn executive director, said that the Community Services Commission’s “trigger” points for temperature and weather conditions resulted in a cold-weather emergency opening from Thursday through at least Sunday.

Under an “emergency opening,” $500 a day is freed from state block-grant funding to provide emergency shelter for homeless people who would not normally qualify for Gathering Inn shelter.

Homeless man Derek Wautlet, 28, was waiting Friday afternoon for a bus to take him to the Gathering Inn shelter site.

“I’ve been staying with Gathering Inn pretty regularly and I didn’t notice the difference the extra people make,” Wautlet said. “It wasn’t all too tight.”

Wautlet said he’s thankful for a warm meal and a place to sleep with the onset of freezing temperatures.

“It’s a lot better than being on the street,” Wautlet said.

The Gathering Inn count on Thursday was 75 people housed and fed overnight. De Fosset said that the normal maximum occupancy would be 50.

Don Kleinfelder, who volunteers as chairman of the Community Services Commission, said that the shelters – which rotate among several South Placer County churches – normally don’t accept people who have not had a tuberculosis test or can’t show ID proving they are local residents.

But when the temperature is forecast to reach 32 degrees or below – or 40 degrees if rain is forecast – then those two regulations are waived.

De Fosset said that the Gathering Inn will continue to turn away people who are not clean and sober, or who are listed as sex offenders in the Meghan’s Law registry.

Kleinfelder said the trigger temperature forecast sets in motion a series of e-mails that reach Gathering Inn providers as well as agencies dealing with the homeless, including law-enforcement.

If someone is from out-of-town and traveling through, police have been known to help that person get to the pickup point on Richardson Drive in North Auburn, across from the Placer County Justice Center, he said.

The emergency shelter provision has already been used a couple of times each in December and November because of rainy weather, de Fosset said. If churches are too small, a second church will be used. The $500 helps pay for the extra food and other supplies, she said.

Walking alone in Downtown Auburn on Friday, 45-year-old John Gregory said he had not heard of the Gathering Inn or where the pickup point was.

“I could have used it last night,” Gregory said.

Gregory said he had been in Turlock seeking medical help for a broken leg but had to come to Auburn because no facility was accepting Medi-Cal.

“I’ve been all over the place but I spent 20 years in Auburn,” Gregory said. He said he would have no problem meeting Gathering Inn requirements and would appreciate a place to stay after sleeping under a bridge in a sleeping bag on Thursday night in Auburn.

“But there’s no way I can get out there with the cast on my leg,” Gregory said. “I’m still having difficulties. I’ll be sleeping in my sleeping bag but it’s not heavy enough for this. I’ll be in bed by 3 p.m. and stay there.”