“It’s really cold,” said Doug Stewart on Friday afternoon.
Stewart is the founder of Central County Homeless Outreach, and he was preparing to spend another night traveling around central Contra Costa (and North Richmond) checking on the homeless population. They would spend the night in temperatures ranging from the mid-30s to the high 20s.
Stewart’s mission right now—delivering blankets, socks and food to people who have no walls to keep them warm. Typically, he will give those who are willing a ride to one of the two homeless shelters in Concord and Richmond, but the cold snap has filled them to capacity.
“I had the shelter manager call today and tell me not to even bother,” Stewart said. “They just don’t have any room. Right now my job is just keeping people alive. If I see signs of hypothermia, I will put them in my van and take them to the emergency room." So far, he hasn't had to do that.
Later that night, Stewart reported on the Central County Homeless Outreach Facebook page that he gave a young woman who was two months pregnant a ride to the shelter, which made room for her somehow.
“It motivates me even more when I’m able to help a young mom,” Stewart wrote.
There are officially 4,200 homeless people in Contra Costa County right now, according to county figures, but a new count is going to be made at the end of the month. In Central County, the approximate numbers are:
- Concord: 1,000 or more;
- Pleasant Hill: 75-100;
- Walnut Creek: 40-45;
- Pacheco: 30
- Martinez: 20-25.
He has made a difference in a lot of lives. In Martinez, for instance, there were people sleeping in the parks, and at the Amtrak station, when he began his efforts. Now, those people have been through the shelter programs, and many of them are working.
“I can think of at least four of those folks who now work downtown, and a few others working at Walmart,” Stewart said. “I can get them into the shelter and the program, but the rest is up to them.”
Though some of the people he encounters call themselves “naturalists,” Stewart estimates that at least 90 percent of the his client population have drug, alcohol or mental problems, and many have a combination of all of the above.
“You can’t be happy if you’re out there,” he said.
For his efforts, Stewart will receive the Martin Luther King, Jr., Humanitarian Award on Jan. 22 from the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors. He’s pleased about the recognition, but wished it came with a check so he could purchase more supplies, like blankets, socks, and food, which are always in short supply.
Stewart works from 5:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. five nights a week, Wednesday through Sunday, and will go out on a Monday or Tuesday if the police contact him.
“It’s a continual grind,” he said. “That’s what it’s about. You stay at it. But the daily grind for me is the same grind for them. For me, it’s just making sure I get home at the end of the night.”