Cottage Grove Cares: Beds for Freezing Nights

December 2 - When the winter of 2009 was only a few months away, a dozen or so representatives of the area’s nonprofit organizations, community-minded individuals, churches and the City of Cottage Grove met at the Church of the Nazarene. The mission was to consolidate the planning underway by multiple community groups to establish a city-certified emergency warming shelter so no un-housed person would freeze to death, as did homeless veteran Maj. Thomas Egan in Eugene the previous winter.

The establishment of the Egan Warming Centers in the metro area, combined with local community support for the ideas generated around that planning table in 2009, gave birth to a core group of organizers — and Beds for Freezing Nights (BFN) was born.

Creating a nonprofit organization from scratch takes a while. It took nearly a year to appoint a board, submit an application to the Internal Revenue Service, collect community feedback, create an operations manual, recruit volunteers, find an insurance company to insure an unproven group involved in a liability-rich activity, raise money to pay for that premium and assemble the supplies needed for BFN’s first activation in November 2010.

For a decade, the winter-time nonprofit was sustained by mission-driven volunteers, the generosity of annual donors, the support of businesses, the faith community, Community Sharing, and the City of Cottage Grove. Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) Catholic Church and First Presbyterian Church offered to serve as the shelter locations.

In mid-March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck at the end of Bed for Freezing Night's (BFN) season, which is Nov. 15 to March 21. Seven months later, board members and partner churches realized the BFN structure — congregating guests in church rooms and the loss of many seasonal volunteers with at-risk health concerns — would prevent them from mobilizing.

With COVID-support from Lane County and federal agencies, the City of Cottage Grove and Community Sharing partnered to establish a warming center using small white pallet shelters on city-owned land next to the post office.

In early November this year, after being on hiatus for two winters, city officials contacted BFN President Ruth Linoz about resuming the program. They explained the pallet shelters were now at the Highway 99 site and the former warming shelter site on 12th Street would be used as an overflow site for tent campers.

Linoz convened with BFN Board members and met with staff from Community Sharing, the city, OLPH Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church and Carry It Forward (CIF) to quickly create partnerships to resume the church-based emergency warming centers.

“The need was presented to us on Nov. 8 and we wanted to help,” Linoz said. “Unfortunately, we were still putting the administrative and operational details together with our new partners when the first sub-freezing nights arrived two weeks ago.”

In the new collaboration, City Community Coordinator Teresa Cowan assists with volunteer recruitment. To speed things along, Community Sharing designated BFN as one of its committees to operate under its insurance policy. The agency’s food pantry provides individually-wrapped snacks and heat-and-serve items when available.

Community Sharing Executive Director Mike Fleck is proud of how multiple community organizations are coming together to provide a local warming center on freezing nights this winter.

He said, “Community Sharing is excited to be working with BFN, OLPH, First Presbyterian Church, Carry it Forward, and the City of Cottage Grove to help keep people experiencing homelessness warm on very cold nights. Our agency is dedicated to serving our community and it is an honor to serve with these outstanding partners.” The Catholic Church serves as the primary site. If an activity is scheduled at the church on a freezing night, BFN activates at the Presbyterian Church. Pets are only allowed indoors at the Presbyterian Church.

Linoz said they welcome BFN’s new partnership with Carry It Forward (CIF), the nonprofit organization that is managing the Highway 99 pallet shelter site. The church facility and warming center volunteers are not able to serve every person who wants to come inside on a freezing night.

Those who don’t want to be separated from their pets (at OLPH), unaccompanied minors, families, and mentally ill persons who cannot self-manage their behavior are among the un-housed that cannot be sheltered at the church. CIF manages a network of shelter sites and their partnership with other nonprofit agencies serving the un-housed increases the likelihood of placing those BFN cannot serve.

“We are grateful people cared enough about this resource to offer help to resume BFN’s warming center,” Linoz said. “We had to ramp up quickly this winter, which created some confusion that the City of Cottage Grove and Community Sharing were taking over Beds for Freezing Nights. They are not.”

She explained how BFN welcomes the city’s assistance with volunteer recruitment, Community Sharing’s operational support and CIF’s experience and resources with the unhoused population to maintain BFN’s mission, “to provide a safe, warm place to sleep for those who wish to come inside during the coldest nights of the year.”

Linoz said with liability insurance in place and volunteer recruitment underway, BFN will soon schedule training meetings with the goal of being ready to respond by early December.

“It’s great to be back,” she said.

To volunteer, call 541-942-1185 or send an email to [email protected]

To make a cash donation or donate needed supplies, contact Community Sharing at 541-942-2176.

The BFN website is an information-only site that will be linked to the Community Sharing website to announce activations, in addition to flyers placed at key community locations with a phone number to call.