Teen Challenge seeks to reopen Salvation Army shelters in Watsonville

Donna Jones – Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted:   08/16/2012

WATSONVILLE — Salvation Army officials are reviewing a proposal by a local group to take over management of three downtown homeless shelters.

The group closed its three shelters Wednesday, citing financial difficulty.

Teen Challenge Monterey Bay, which manages the Pajaro Rescue Mission across the Pajaro River in Pajaro, has submitted a proposal to reopen them under its supervision.

Mike Borden, executive director of Teen Challenge, said Pajaro Rescue Mission is prepared to shelter the homeless left without a place to sleep by the closing. The mission readied for the Salvation Army closing by stocking up on cots that can be set up nightly in its chapel and dining room. A few men displaced from the Salvation Army shelter have showed up at its door, Borden said. He expects the numbers to grow once three-day motel vouchers handed out by Salvation Army on Wednesday run out.

The community can’t afford to lose 60 beds, Borden said.

“We are prepared but what we need is shelter on that side of the river so we can meet the needs there,” he said.

Salvation Army spokeswoman Laine Hendricks said the proposal is under review by regional officials in Southern California. She couldn’t say when a response would be made or what it might be. She said there are no plans to sell the property on Union Street across from the police station. She did say Teen Challenge would have to show it has the finances to run a program.

In June, when Salvation Army announced the closings, Hendricks said slumping donations in a down economy meant cutbacks had to be made. Closing the shelters allows the organization to maintain its other services, including a soup kitchen that served nearly 16,000 breakfasts and 43,000 dinners in 2011.

Borden estimated it would cost $120,000 annually to run the shelters. He acknowledged the funding isn’t all in place.

“The problem is we can’t go out and raise money for something we don’t have,” Borden said. “But a lot of people have committed, and our expectation is that the community is going to rally and make this happen.”

Borden said Teen Challenge, which has been working in the community for 25 years, has a track record, With a $600,000 annual budget, it provides 11,000 meals a month, 130 beds each night and an extensive job training program. Most of its funding comes from its own enterprises.

“We try to change lives not just sustain them,” Borden said. “We have a long history of being able to do this and do it very cost effectively.”