Warming Place sets record

In its record-setting run over the seemingly endless winter, the warming shelter in The Dalles was open 94 nights. It was even open on its last night of the season, March 18.

The shelter, called the Warming Place, will start its planning for next winter a month earlier this year, with hopes of boosting volunteer ranks, said Ed Elliott, chair of the Warming Place committee.

The shelter, located at the St. Vincent de Paul building at 315 W. Third St., finished its seventh season, and there were 903 overnight stays, for an average of 10 people a night. On its last night, six showed.

The previous record of nights open was set in the 2014-15 winter, when it was open for 83 days.

The 2015-16 winter was much milder, and the shelter was open just 65 nights, but it saw more people, averaging 16 people a night, for a total of 1,044 overnight stays.

“We had really excellent volunteers this year for the short numbers that we had,” Elliott said. “People really stepped forward.”

The shelter opens when it’s 35 degrees if it’s raining or snowing, and at 30 degrees — including wind chill — on nights without precipitation.

The goal is to have volunteers serve once a month, but with the high demand this season, a handful of volunteers were serving weekly, he said.

The shelter received considerably more media coverage than usual because of the extended cold snap, but despite repeated Chronicle articles, each including a request from Elliott for more volunteers, not a single person stepped forward, he said.

The volunteer corps was 57 people, well short of the robust 100-120 volunteers it has enjoyed in the past.

The volunteer ranks are mostly filled from area churches, plus some other individuals.

The shelter committee will brainstorm additional groups to approach for volunteers, Elliott said.

They attended the volunteer fair held at the Civic Auditorium last summer and netted two new volunteers from that, Elliott said.

They have had people with court-ordered community service seek to volunteer, but they turned them down.

“We want people who care about the people we serve,” Elliott said. “If you’re taking the easy way out to get your community service hours, they’d do their hours and we’d never see them again.”

“We need people who really care and want to help other people and be able to help them better their lives a little bit, if possible,” he said.

A handful of volunteers have been with the program all seven years, he said.

He said there’s a perspective about the shelter’s guests that “they’re homeless and they’re dirty. Well, no, they’re human beings. Yeah, they dress differently from us because that’s what they’ve got. They’re really nice people, they’re just in a bad situation. They lost everything they had and can’t get anything back.

“You just have to have some compassion for them and what they deal with.”

The warming shelter has access to a grant that would pay someone two hours a night to set up the room where the overnight stays take place — it involves taking down tables and setting up cots – which would allow the volunteers to not only avoid that work but also show up later in the evening.

However, they were unable to get the word out sufficiently and did not take advantage of the grant, Elliott said. They still have access to the funding and may still pursue it if they are able to advertise it sufficiently.

They briefly tried hiring the homeless themselves to set up the shelter area, but it proved untenable. “They started making themselves king or queen of the deal and the others resent it.

“We’ve been down that road and that is not a good idea,” Elliott said.

And while the volunteer ranks were stretched, every single night the shelter was staffed with the required two volunteers, who must be 18 years old. “We’ve never missed a night yet,” Elliott said.

Those interested in volunteering next year can call Elliott at 541-386-5857.

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