In from the Cold

12/17/2013

The Hood River Warming Shelter is seeking to enrich the quality of life of the homeless in Hood River County and surrounding areas by providing “a safe place to meet the basic human needs of people without shelter during our coldest months.”

The warming shelter started in November 2010 on a rotation basis between five local churches and had trained 100 volunteers to operate the shelter from January-March on nights that were below 35 degrees.

“I think we’re getting better every year,” said Andy Wade of Hood River, one of the shelter founders. “The first year we put it together in three months from the first meeting to opening night. Every year we’ve tweaked it a little to try to make it better and I think we’re getting there.”

The warming shelter operates for a week at a time at a rotating list of host sites, and is open from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.

It has a strict no-drugs-tobacco-or-alcohol use policy, and weapons and sexual activity are prohibited; families are provided with as much privacy as possible. Also, guests must be in and stay in by 9 p.m., and “lights out” is 10 p.m.

The fact is, being homeless is an exhausting way to live, and most guests are ready to sleep by 9:30 p.m.

Games, books and conversation, along with food and warm beverages, are also provided.

Major changes happened this year with the addition of one venue and the departure of two others (more are needed: see Getting Involved for details).

Sites for 2013-14 include Mid-Columbia Center for Living Community Room, Riverside Community Church, Immanuel Lutheran Church, and Church of the Nazarene.

Volunteers work in pairs or threes, and can choose from three shifts: 5:45 p.m. to 10:15; 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.; 4:45 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.

Another significant change this year was hiring Alan Wiebe as shelter host; five nights a week he helps at the 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. opening shift.

“Alan was one of our top volunteers last year, with the most shifts served, and he just seemed a natural to hire for this position,” Wade said. “He has been amazing as far as providing consistency for our guests and volunteers. He’s just done a tremendous job.

“I have heard from repeat guests and volunteers how much they appreciate having him in the position and the job he’s doing.”

Rev. Linda Presley, a shelter board member and frequent volunteer, said the number of guests has ranged from five to 11 per night, including men and women. Presley co-pastors at Hood River Valley Christian Church with her husband, Dave.

“We were so delighted we were open in November when it was cold and it was so important to be open that first week of December when it got really, really cold,” Presley said.

“It’s been a quiet group; a good group of people, mostly guys,” Wade said.

Under the umbrella of Gorge Ecumenical Ministries, the Hood River Warming Shelter operates as a steering committee made up of 10 different individuals representing host congregations, the Hood River County Commission on Children and Families, Oregon Child Development Coalition, and Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital.

This year the shelter opened in mid-November and will run through mid March, 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Once providing only a mattress, sleeping bag and a sandwich, the shelter now offers a simple evening meal, breakfast, social interaction, shower passes, clothes, laundry services, physical exams and referrals to those without health insurance.

Funding for the warming shelter comes from “a lot of individual support” and has included grants, including local ones from United Way and the Lions, and fundraising such as two months’ worth of Leos Club can and bottle drives.

*Originally published in Hood River News, a publication of Eagle Newspapers, Inc.  Photo courtesy of Kirby Neumann-Rea.

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