Not washed out

Heather House renovates following New Year's floods

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - Katina Boyd, a 27-year-old homeless woman who spends her days looking for work, is ready to start a new life.

She speaks softly yet confidently against a backdrop of subtle sounds at the Heather House homeless shelter, but remains discreet with her thoughts.

At one point, Boyd divulges a plan to "start over" in Fairfield - after years of living in Richmond - by finding a full-time job and affordable housing. The cost for this ambition, she admits, means not having a home.

"I was homeless and it was my choice. I could have stayed in Richmond or with a friend, but I chose to start over. I want to see something different, do something different," she said on a warm weekday afternoon.

That meant hopping from one apartment to the next, staying sporadically with friends or family, until members of the Christian Help Center referred her to the Heather House, a homeless shelter for families and single women.

But her story would have played out differently more than six weeks ago, as the shelter remained closed to new clients for seven months, a result from the New Year's Eve flooding.

"It was devastating to see the flooding and damage it caused," said Linda Mahoney, executive director of the Heather House, operated by the Interfaith Council of Solano County. "It was heartbreaking."

The damage

The memories remain vivid for the woman who pumps hope into the veins of the Heather House.

It was 6:15 a.m. when Mahoney arrived to the shelter on Ohio Street in Fairfield. Puddles of rain were slowly becoming knee-high floods.

Fifteen volunteers were summoned on the day it wouldn't stop raining, in which all spent nine hours filling sandbags followed by countless hours of mopping floors.

"It comes from an environment of support and love," said Pastor Todd Bertani of St. Mark's Lutheran Church. "I was so inspired. This was their home and it really reminded me of why it's such a special place.

Meanwhile, four-wheeler trucks purposely kept driving by the house, creating waves that seeped into the two-house, three-apartment units.

"Their objective was to see if the water could go over the roof!" Mahoney recalls. "It was literally like waves at an ocean. There was so much water and the waves were going into the shelter."

Yet, all efforts to prevent flooding seemed fruitless. It wasn't long before the shelter housed six inches of water, seeping into the wall board and tile floor.

By the sixth hour, Mahoney sat on a chair and cried.

"We worked so hard to make it beautiful but there are things that happen," said Mahoney, who has been with the shelter since its genesis five years ago. "We were making such a valiant effort. It really didn't matter if we had 100 volunteers; this would have happened."

The wreckage, which produced 60 bags of garbage and $50,000 worth of damages, resulted in replacement of the dry wall and flooring to avoid mold problems. And for a while, a place that once flourished with grateful souls and laughing children became a mass of rotted wood and debris. Still, the residents wouldn't leave.

"This was their home. I kept trying to evacuate them to Armijo High School but they stayed and worked as hard as they could to help fix the place," Mahoney said.


The shelter's owner at the time, Pacific Community Services, a private nonprofit out of Contra Costa County, could not provide the funds for repair and asked the city of Fairfield for assistance, where PCS acquired a loan of $50,000 for damages.

Months later, Fairfield's Redevelopment Agency went a step further with the Heather House and purchased the property, containing two-1,100 square-foot houses, a 24-bed shelter and three 750-square-foot apartments, from PCS for $600,000.

"The reason for the purchase was to keep the operation there going and to protect the property," said Sean Quinn, director of planning and development. "It's a great service they provide and a big need. We're glad to step in and help them out."

The Heather House has assisted more than 800 clients since 2001 and has a 75 percent success rate, according to Mahoney. It has room for 24 people while 12 singles can live in the transitional apartments. Apart from providing food and shelter, it furnishes case management and connects families to other services in the community.

"Sometimes people are terrified to go into a shelter," Mahoney said. "It's not dark and dreary. It's not scary. We just want to make sure it's a home-like setting, making sure we focus on helping families and children.

"They deserve to have good things happen in their lives," she adds.