Todd Guild/The Pajaronian Watsonville Salvation Army Lt. Nayeli Mercado, center, addresses employees and clients on the final day of the shelter.

On Saturday morning, 48-year-old Gerardo Gutierrez was one of about a dozen men sitting in the day room at Salvation Army’s Watsonville location, quietly watching an old Vicente Fernández film playing silently on a television mounted to the ceiling.

The men—most of them homeless—had stayed in the organization’s 24-bed shelter the night before. It was a typical scene at the 6-year-old Navigation Center. 

But this day was a somber one, as Friday was the final night for the shelter. It closed its doors for the final time on Saturday, along with the laundry facility, storage area and shower room.

Gutierrez, who was eating  a small cup of ice cream with a flat wooden spoon, said he also stays in the Pajaro Rescue Mission. But both facilities have strict time limits, and he has exceeded his time at the Pajaro location. He now has nowhere to go, and nowhere to store his belongings, including the medical equipment he needs.

“I feel safe in this place,” he said.

Many of the homeless people living in Watsonville now have no place to find the services they need.

“It’s hard, because you feel lonely,” said Israel Garcia, who recently lost his home. “You feel like this is the only place you could come in the morning and have a cup of coffee. It’s something, instead of being on the street on your own. It’s going to be hard, but you have to adjust.”

The Salvation Army’s Watsonville shelter opened in 2018 with capacity for about 56, a number that dropped to roughly 20 during the Covid pandemic and never recovered. But it has offered a reliable place for many people.

Salvation Army Advisory Board Member Bruce Burnett said that he was at the center for its opening.

“Now we’re here again to gather to close it, and you can look around and see the folks it affects,” he said. “With the rain and cold and things like that, people don’t have a place to come and be sheltered, take showers, wash their clothes, do all those things that human beings should be able to do.”

Advisory Board Vice-Chair Maria Burnett called the closure “heartbreaking.” 

“I feel our city and county don’t realize the impact that the day center has because of the services we provided,” she said.  “We just want to add dignity to people’s lives, and that’s what we’re losing here.”

The shelter building—a temporary structure when it was built—will now be demolished, Maria Burnett said. 

The daily meals and food pantry, she added, will continue.

Heather McAuley, 50, was sitting on the floor, surrounded by her belongings and leafing through a tattered Better Homes and Garden magazine. While she could not stay in the men-only shelter, she still came for the showers and free clothes.

“Now it’s all going to be gone,” she said. 

Jose Luis Zárate, 60, said he lost his home in the 2023 floods after the landlord sold the property. Like Gutierrez, the six-month limit means he cannot yet return to the Pajaro Rescue Mission. 

On Saturday, he was packing up his belongings into a rolling suitcase and milk crates. He was not sure where he would go.

“I’m sad, because I need more time to find a new place to stay,” he said through a translator.

Lt. Nayeli Mercado—the Salvation Army employee who runs the facility—gave a final prayer for the men before they left for the final time.

Before they did, one man asked Mercado if she had any hope the shelter will reopen.

Her answer was succinct and brief.

“Right now, I don’t have any,” she said.

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA.


  1. Why don’t the Catholic and Mormon churches open up their churches to homeless. These two churches don’t pay taxes and spend millions attacking women and gay rights, could instead use their tithings to help the homeless along with other local churches.

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    • Instead of funding the murder of babies, divert the funds from planned parenthood

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  2. Thank you for this well-written and compassionate article. Where will these poor people go? How can we help them. There is really so much more to know and do.

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