Rhea Mahbubani

Walnut Creek National Guard Armory to Serve as City's First Overnight Homeless Shelter

A controversial overnight shelter in Walnut Creek is taking on extra significance as the Bay Area prepares for rain.

After two years of resistance, homeless people will be able to stay overnight inside the city’s National Guard armory, starting Saturday. The site marks the first overnight homeless shelter in Walnut Creek history.

Shelter organizers say they took some bold steps, including stationing guards at the building and establishing a registration process, to make this a reality. Walnut Creek residents were concerned, they said, because the armory is located next to homes and Civic Park.

As cold, wet weather hits the area this weekend, Jeff Cooper said he is ready. “Me and my dog are going to the shelter,” he proclaimed.

The 52-year-old said he signed up in advance, and made sure his dog has his tags. “It’s hard,” Cooper said.

From Saturday night, Cooper will be one of 38 people spending the night at the National Guard Armory.

“I sleep under a bridge,” Cooper said, “but now I can be warm.”

The city is paying about $100,000 to make this emergency shelter possible. Money has also been donated, officials said.

The shelter will be open until March 31, and there is already a waiting list.

But some Walnut Creek residents expressed trepidation at the shelter’s proximity to a popular park, especially because it will house single people, they said.

“It’s always a little bit alarming because there are small children here,” said Jane Smith, a local parent.

It will also be across the street from Marly Malm’s condo. Malm said she has attended City Council meetings to voice concerns.

“It’s a dead-end street with there is a park, where there are a lot of families,” Malm said, adding that a “lot of single women” reside nearby.

But Mary Fenelon, a board member at Trinity Center, the nonprofit that will operate the overnight shelter, said, “They will be locked in for the night. They will never hit the streets.”

Fenelon said says the homeless people will be transported from her center to the armory and guards will be on duty. Also, those using the shelter must be registered and vetted by the police department.

“There are no criminals,” Fenelon said.

But “people judge,” Cooper said, noting that he understands the community’s fears.

“Be concerned – I mean there is bad and there is good,” he said. “I am good.”

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