On Nov. 1, the Community Sharing Warming Shelter season officially began its winter run, which will end March 31.
The warming shelter is operated through a partnership with the City of Cottage Grove and nonprofit Community Sharing.
“We weren’t sure if we were going to end up operating or not again,” said Community Sharing Executive Director Mike Fleck.
Community Sharing assumed responsibility for the project last fall when local shelter provider Beds for Freezing Nights stated it would be unable to provide its services for the season. Beds for Freezing Nights has, however, remained a supporting entity for the current program.
This year, though, Beds for Freezing Nights has again faced challenges with finding volunteers.
“So we basically said we’d go ahead and step up and do that,” said Fleck. “We’re going to operate very similar to last year, however, we’re going to change the temperature.”
While the program had previously only activated when nights dipped to 29 degrees Fahrenheit or below, Fleck said the nonprofit will likely now raise that threshold to 32 degrees.
Staffing has also been an issue for the program and Community Sharing is still in the hiring process.
“So it looks like it’s going to be probably mid-month (November) when we can activate,” said Fleck, adding that the uncertainty of the season prevented him from making firm promises about activation possibilities. “We’ll just kind of re-evaluate as the season goes and see how it how it all works out.”
Part of the uncertainty stems from the prospect of activating more often due to raising the temperature threshold. With more activations comes higher costs and demand for staffing.
The hope is to keep the program afloat with dollars from the county, “and if those don’t last, the City [of Cottage Grove] has said that they have some potential COVID dollars,” Fleck said. “But I think we’ll be able to manage it.”
The nonprofit is increasing its funding request this season, asking the county for almost $60,000 in grant funding to run the program.
Though the program got off to a late start last season by opening in January, the program was deemed a success by organizers.
In all, the site activated nine times and served 28 people.
The warming shelters is currently made up of 17 Pallet shelters which resemble miniature cabins, each with a heater and lights that can house up to two individuals. The structures are owned by Lane County, but loaned out to cities.
Upon activation, guests may arrive in the evening and stay until the morning the next day.
The site also provides other services such as a communal hospitality area with hot drinks, non-perishable snacks, hygiene items and clothing.
Things will run roughly this same this season, said Fleck, including the provision of the amenities. The likely change to the 32-degree threshold will be the most marked change.
During community discussions about the program last year, one of the reasons for the previous 29-degree limit given by those working in the local warming shelter community was to encourage priority use of Eugene’s Egan Warming Center, which activates at 30 degrees. The lower threshold, it was reasoned, would reduce shelter-seeking traffic from outside areas into Cottage Grove.
However, Fleck reported that all nine times the Cottage Grove shelter opened last season, Egan was closed and he did not witness a surge of out-of-town visitors. In fact, the site rarely saw its capacity rise to even 50 percent.
The combination of this and feedback from the community informed the decision to raise the temperature threshold.
“To be honest, I think that temperatures even in the 30s, when you have the dampness from rain and whatnot – and wind chill -- I think could pose a serious health threat if somebody doesn’t have any form of shelter or any warmer clothing like with wool,” Fleck said. “So, I think certainly the goal is to do what we can, with the monies that we have, and I think that’s kind of the target we’re hitting.”
The prospect of opening long-term is also a vision Fleck would like to see realized, but it would require deeper resources than are currently available.
“That’s a discussion for another day,” he said. “I mean, that’s huge, huge dollars, and we have to kind of weigh what our capacity is with what the county’s doing.”
A recent addition to the Community Sharing toolkit may make an appearance at the warming shelter, though.
In July, the nonprofit debuted its mobile shower unit on the Community Sharing property. The City of Cottage Grove accessed about $60,000 of CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act grant funds to purchase the trailer while the nonprofit covered remaining costs of around $25,000.
Community Sharing, as caretaker of the facility, opens the unit once a week on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The facility sports two showers and amenities such as a toilet, sink, soap, air conditioning and a heater, giving it year-round usability.
The model of trailer was chosen in particular for its ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) feature, as one of the shower units has a gently sloping ramp and extra space inside.
The possibility of installing the shower unit at the warming shelter has been floated as there are water and sewer hookups at the site, however, plugging in for electricity is still a problem to be solved.
The difficulty of moving the trailer due to its weight would also require that the warming site remain open for several days.
“We wouldn’t want to be running it back and forth every day,” said Fleck. “So that’s why we’re kind of thinking, if there’s a cold snap and we’re going to be open for several days, that it might be feasible.”
Operating the shower unit will also require some extra hands. For this and the potential of seeing a busier season, Community Sharing is currently seeking volunteers to help with the 2021-22 season.
Once on the list of volunteers, a notice will be sent out to the list every time the shelter anticipates an activation.
The nonprofit is also in the process of finishing up hiring to keep regulars on staff so that activations are not as dependent on who is available.
“We’re hoping to start with eight, and maybe even get as many as 12 people on board able to work. And so hopefully that won’t be as big an issue,” said Fleck.
Community Sharing will release notices on nights it anticipates opening. As well as checking the nonprofit’s Facebook page, the public can check the website at communitysharing.org under the “Warming Shelter” tab to see activation status.
Those interested in volunteering or getting more information can contact Community Sharing at 541-942-2176 or emailing at [email protected].
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