Group helps form haven for homeless

Nov. 11, 2011, 2:27 a.m.

Night Outreach, a Stanford student group dedicated to serving and establishing a relationship with the local homeless community, has partnered with InnVision, the largest provider of housing in Santa Clara County, in an effort to establish an area, women-only shelter.

Night Outreach said it hopes to raise $20,000 to help fund the joint venture. The shelter is scheduled to open on Jan. 15, 2012.

This project marks a significant addition to Night Outreach’s current activity, which includes a weekly ‘night walk’ into downtown Palo Alto. Students distribute sandwiches and basic necessities on the walks, which are intended to promote dialogue between students and the homeless and at-risk population.

“The night walks shaped our mission,” said Richardo Pinho, a graduate student Night Outreach member who coordinates the night walks. “Even now with higher-flying, more ambitious projects, the night walks keep us grounded and in-touch.”

The student group’s project partner, InnVision, is the operator of the only emergency shelter in Palo Alto, Hotel de Zink, which currently provides 15 beds for the homeless. The new women’s shelter would double that capacity, adding 15 additional beds.

“This will be a women-only shelter, and it will be based off InnVision’s existing infrastructure,” said Night Outreach co-president Marie Baylon ’12. “Sometimes there are more than 150 unhoused people on [InnVision’s] waiting list. There is a huge demand for shelter.”

Hotel de Zink does not have a permanent structure, and neither will the women’s shelter. Instead, the shelter will be hosted by churches in the area and will change locations once per month. Continuing current policy, guests will be allowed to stay for no longer than three consecutive months.

Night Outreach is planning the women’s shelter as a three-month trial.

“We will be having a pilot program from Jan. 15 to April 15 at three different churches,” Pinho said. “One is in downtown Palo Alto, and one is in Menlo Park.”

The decision to create a women’s shelter was a difficult one for the two organizations given the high demand for housing from people of both sexes. Ultimately, the group decided to focus its services on a specific population, hoping that more targeted services would have a greater impact.

“Some women don’t feel comfortable in shelters shared with men. For example, women coming from a domestic violence situation wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable,” Baylon said. “Also, in a shelter open to everyone, sometimes women’s more specialized needs are ignored.”

In order to raise the $20,000 to get the project off the ground, Night Outreach is partnering with The Counter, a build-your-own-burger restaurant on California Avenue, to raise money. On Wednesday, Nov. 16, The Counter will be donating part of its proceeds to InnVision.

Night Outreach will also begin an on-campus campaign to “fund a bed,” something Baylon said will be crucial to getting the project’s success.

“We are asking dorm governments, people on the Row and different organizations to sponsor a bed,” Baylon said.

For members of Night Outreach, the partnership with InnVision is the first step toward having an independent shelter run by Stanford students. This shelter would be modeled after the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, a student-directed shelter founded in 1983.

According to Baylon, Night Outreach plans to hold a community event at the University Lutheran Church to explain the history of the group and provide details on its current and future projects. It is also holding ongoing trainings for volunteers interested in helping at the new shelter.

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