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Low-barrier, winter homeless shelter for single women now open in Stockton

The Stockton Record logo The Stockton Record 1/10/2021 Cassie Dickman, The Record
a person sitting in a chair with a bag of luggage: (1/5/21)Stockton Shelter for the Homeless' CEO JoLyn McMillan, right, talks with Antoinette Wilkerson who is first occupant of the shelter's new low-barrier women's shelter in Stockton. CLIFFORD OTO/ THE STOCKTON RECORD © [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECOR, [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECOR (1/5/21)Stockton Shelter for the Homeless' CEO JoLyn McMillan, right, talks with Antoinette Wilkerson who is first occupant of the shelter's new low-barrier women's shelter in Stockton. CLIFFORD OTO/ THE STOCKTON RECORD

Stockton Shelter for the Homeless opened a winter shelter for single women this past week. The new low-barrier accommodations is the first of its kind in Stockton.

The shelter has long offered low-barrier beds to men, meaning they don't have to pass a drug test to check in for the night, as well as separate medium-barrier accommodations for women and families. But Shelter CEO JoLyn McMillan says they have never been able to offer something like this to single women.

 "This is the first for the city and for the shelter," McMillan said.

Women who live in homeless encampments often have to make tough choices to protect themselves, McMillan said.

"Homeless women on the streets frequently have to trade sex for safety," McMillan said. "They trade sex so they have a safe place to sleep at night and so they don't get their items stolen or get beat up by other people "

One employee has even told her that he can sometimes hear women screaming in the encampments while working at the men's shelter, McMillan said. Just providing a place for women to sleep at night can prevent violence against them.

The new 24-bed shelter was originally a temporary expansion set up last last winter to house an additional 50 men during the colder months of the year, McMillan said. Then when COVID-19 hit, the Stockton Shelter was given federal CARES ACT funding to keep the accommodations up and running through the end of the year.

Over the last year the shelter has been able to transition about a quarter of its men population into permanent housing, McMillan said, which just happened to be roughly the same number of those living in the winter expansion.

McMillan said she saw an opportunity. So they cobbled together existing funding and some creative grants with the city and county in order to keep expansion open for winter through March 31 — only this time for single women instead.

"We just wanted to start with something small, see how many women we could pull off the streets," McMillan said. "Hopefully provide some safety, some warmth and some caring for these women."

The reduced number of beds inside the expansion — shrunk from 50 to 24 — also allows the shelter to store personal possessions for the women when they come to shelter, McMillan said.

"They're not going to leave their items," McMillan said. "If that's the difference between them coming off the streets and not, we find a location to store their items."

The shelter, which is located just south of downtown Stockton, started doing outreach in homeless encampments in the area on Jan. 4 and will soon expand those efforts to north Stockton as well, McMillan said.

For the first few nights the only woman to check in was Antoinette Wilkerson. But shelter worker Kathie Trees said by Friday there were about a half dozen more.

Wilkerson, 62, has been homeless for a longtime, she said. Her 82-year-old husband lives in a long-term care facility but says she hasn't been able to go and see him since the pandemic began. She came into the shelter after Trees told her she could get warm. 

"I'm just happy to get in here," Wilkerson said. "I'm so tired out in the street, I just don't know what to do."

It's been quite in the shelter, Wilkerson said. She'd like some company there but doubted that many women would take advantage of the beds because they can't bring their boyfriends or allowed to do some activities they normally would on the streets.

"We keep trying," McMillan says. "Doesn't mean we quit. We keep trying."

The expansion will offer the women services, acting as a bridge to help eventually get them off the streets permanently, McMillan said. They will also have an opportunity to shower, eat and charge their phones, as well as receive COVID-19 and basic medical screenings through a partnership with Community Medical Centers.

"This is our very first step in starting a continuum from the street level to bring women in and into housing," McMillan said.

The shelter is also asking for financial support so it can further reduce the barriers that keep women from coming in off the street, McMillan said, such as acquiring pet insurance so they can bring their animals in with them.

The three biggest hurdles that often prevent women from coming into the shelter are having to leave their pets, possessions and partners, McMillan said. The shelter is working to remedy those issues with several new programs.

"Once we can get them off the streets and we can stabilize their health a little bit and they have a feeling of safety and some level of comfort," McMillan said, "at that point we can start to work on some of the issues that prevent them from finding housing, staying in housing, locating jobs and seeking out benefits and then resources that can improve their lives."

Record reporter Cassie Dickman covers Stockton and San Joaquin County government. She can be reached at cdickman@recordnet.com or on Twitter at @byCassieDickman. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at https://www.recordnet.com/subscribenow

This article originally appeared on The Record: Low-barrier, winter homeless shelter for single women now open in Stockton

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