Temecula's homeless shelter has a new home.
The shelter, which is run by the Murrieta-based nonprofit group Project TOUCH, is now in a vacant church building off Rancho California Road in Temecula. The group will run the shelter there until at least April, but the organizers hope to buy the building.
That would be a permanent solution to the winter shelter problem, said Anne Unmacht of Murrieta, executive director of Project TOUCH.
The volunteer-run organization shelters homeless people from all over southwest Riverside County during cold and rainy weather. Project TOUCH stands for “Together Our Unity Conquers Homelessness.”
The shelter is now in the former MountainView Community Church building, which is owned by Hope Lutheran Church of Temecula. The church building was vacant since late December when MountainView moved to a new location.
The building is for sale for $3.1 million, and it’s zoned how a homeless shelter would need to be, she said. Churches have certain legal abilities to operate shelters that other businesses don’t have, she added.
“I believe we’ll be able to buy it,” Unmacht said, adding that she’s not sure when.
She hopes churches will realize the recession makes the shelter more important than ever, she said. “There are a lot of people supporting this effort. So many people realize now that with this economy, that could be me. We are working on different strategies," she said. "The churches and everybody will step up.”
The building has two kitchens and is in a great location, across the street from a bus stop and the Temecula Town Center, she said. “It would work out really well. It’s a great location, accessible to people who need it.”
On Tuesday night, eight people - two women among them - checked in for the night by 5 p.m. The women were given a room apart from the men. Everything was running smoothly and Unmacht came to make sure all was well before dinner was served.
Unmacht and her volunteers sheltered about a dozen people per night at Temecula churches this winter.
Talks between Project TOUCH and city leaders in Temecula and Murrieta last winter dead-ended. “None of the cities are going to initiate opening up a shelter. We just need to find a building that is zoned for a shelter,” said Unmacht.
The best solution was a government-sponsored shelter, said Temecula City Councilmember Maryann Edwards, a member of Temecula’s homeless subcommittee. If one were built, it should be a joint venture where each local city makes a contribution, she said.
This winter, the city has no plan to take up the problem, Edwards said. Shelters run in Hemet and Riverside, and they're closer to social services. “There are resources for people who want them," she said.
Temecula has no plan to build a shelter in Temecula because the problem is regional and should be addressed regionally. Also, Project TOUCH and local churches are doing a great job, she added.
Temecula has fewer than 100 homeless people, a city study showed. It’s hard for the city to justify spending millions to build a shelter with so few homeless people, Edwards said. Most of the local families that have become homeless have moved in with relatives, are renting or have made other arrangements, she said.
The population's growing, though, and so will the number of homeless people, she said. “It’s something that we’re going to have to address eventually.”
In the meantime, Project TOUCH's winter shelter does the job, Edwards said. “We know we have a group of homeless people and some people do choose that lifestyle. For those people the cold weather shelter may be the answer,” she said.
Neither Temecula nor Murrieta gave money to this year’s homeless shelter effort, but the City of Temecula is considering Project TOUCH’s application for a $5,000 grant.
The money would come from the city’s annual fund for non-profits, made after a review by the Finance Committee. The city receives many funding requests, Edward said, and has about $60,000 to give nonprofits this year.
“We have much more in requests,” Edwards noted, but groups seeking money to provide basics such as food, clothing, shelter and medical care have the best chance for a grant, Edwards said.
Project T.O.U.C.H. got a $2,500 grant from Temecula for the past couple of years. Grant money this year would go toward the group's response program in which volunteers work with police to help the homeless get emergency transportation and housing.
The face of the local homeless has changed over the past few years, Unmacht observed.
“Now, it’s anything and everything. One of our clients has been homeless here only a week. We just put an entire family in an extended stay (hotel). I have a couple that had part-time jobs and fell through the cracks. There are single men and women. There is no norm anymore. We see a lot of homeless families.”
The local winter shelter effort is a project Unmacht started in 2003. “I was a real estate agent and living up in Norco at the time. I considered myself an agnostic at the time. I started going to church, it was an indescribable pull and tug," she said. "All I know is I walked out of there saying, I want to help the homeless.”
At the time, Unmacht didn’t know any homeless people personally but her compassion for them and desire to help was strong.
“It wasn’t like a thought-out plan or desire,” said Unmacht, who now attends Murrieta Calvary Church. She’s still a licensed realtor but spends much of her time on ministry and Project TOUCH work.
Project T.O.U.C.H. can be reached at 951-677-9661.