BARSTOW As Desert Manna Ministries celebrates 30 years of serving Barstow's homeless and lower-income population, its executive director hopes to expand services to shelter those it currently cannot.

Desert Manna Ministries is in the early stages of building a new shelter. Its current shelter at 209 North First Avenue in the downtown area is housed in a building built in 1936 and initially served as the Barstow Fire Department. Sheri Randolph, the ministry's executive director, said the shelter has 16 beds for men and five for women. Because of the number of stairs, Desert Manna can't offer shelter to those who are wheelchair boun and because the dorms are separated by gender, housing families is difficult, Randolph said.

"When the city gave Desert Manna this building, the idea was that it wasn't going to be long term," Randolph said. She added that Desert Manna has been at its current home for 20 years and pays the city $1 in rent per year. "The downtown merchants would like Desert Manna to move (and) it's not wheelchair accessible," she said.

Barstow offered a plot of land at the corner of Crooks Avenue and Pierce Avenue to Desert Manna for a new shelter, Randolph said. The shelter received a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant for the first round of architectural drawings, but is waiting for approval from the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors before architects can bid on the project. After the shelter receives the Board's approval, Randolph said it should take two to three years to build the new facility.

She doesn't yet know how big the new shelter will be, but Randolph said a request for proposals for the Board of Supervisors includes a wish list of what Desert Manna would like to see. If Desert Manna's wishes are granted, it will be able to serve families and handicapped people. It will also be able to accomodate more men and women and have more storage and office space.

"We're looking for the ability to house the people who need us, which we can't do right now," she said. "If we have to turn somebody down, the next closest shelter is in Victorville."

Desert Manna Ministries opened its doors at St. Joseph's Catholic Church between 1978 and 1979, Randolph said. Desert Manna, Inc., a coalition of 10 local churches including Saint Joseph's, was created 10 years later. Desert Manna initially offered brown bag lunches, a food pantry and emergency shelter, she said, but as the shelter grew, the needs of the community was better identified.

Now, in addition to its original three services, Desert Manna focuses on case management by helping its clients find jobs and permanent housing, Randolph said. Desert Manna also offered utilities and rental and mortgage assistance from funding available through the federal stimulus package, focusing on keeping people from becoming homeless.

Desert Manna will hold its 30th anniversary celebratory dinner tomorrow at Los Domingos. Tickets for the dinner are no longer available.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or jcejnar@desertdispatch.com