Though off to a late start this season, Cottage Grove’s new warming shelter program has hit its stride as users have found a place to thaw on freezing nights.
Since beginning operations last month, the Community Sharing Warming Shelter has activated four times and served in total 28 people seeking respite from the cold.
“It took us quite a while to get up and running,” said Community Sharing Executive Director Mike Fleck. “There’s actually a lot more to this than what it seems.”
Recruiting, creating manuals, setting COVID-19 protocols and budget planning have taken up much of the preparation energies, he said.
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 this season. It does, however, remain a supporting entity for the current program.
The fenced Community Sharing Warming Shelter site at 224 N 12th St. hosts 18 Pallet Shelters and maintains a total of 35 beds.
Coming in two sizes, 64 and 100 square feet, the shelters are owned by Lane County and have amenities including beds, electrical outlets, a heater, an air conditioner, a smoke detector, shelf space and lockable doors.
As with its preceding program, the Community Sharing Warming Shelter’s season runs from Nov. 1 to March 31. At the end of the season, the Pallet Shelters will be housed with the city and the site will be opened up to other possible uses during the off-season.
Keeping with the Bed’s for Freezing Nights activation threshold, the Community Sharing Warming Shelter only activates when nights dip to 29 degrees Fahrenheit or below. It stays open from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. the following day.
It has been reasoned by those working in the local warming shelter community that the criterion for activation at 29 degrees or below encourages priority use of Eugene’s Egan Warming Center (which activates at 30 degrees) and thus reduces shelter-seeking traffic from outside areas.
With fewer than 10 people showing up to each Cottage Grove activation, shelter capacity is still far from any danger of overflow.
So far, people staying at the shelter have been content with its services, reported Fleck.
“What I’ve heard from all the clients I’ve spoken with is that it has been a very enjoyable,” he said. “This is a low-barrier shelter, meaning we don’t have any expectations about sobriety or any of those sorts of things.”
However, Fleck added, there are strict rules about what can be brought past the gate.
“No drugs or paraphernalia are allowed on site, period. No weapons are allowed on site. We check,” he said.
Fleck said that, so far, no issues related to drugs or weapons have arisen.
As the warming shelter ramped up for its opening over the past few months, some in the Cottage Grove community expressed concern that the site would attract vagrants from other towns and bring a drug element into the area.
Fleck stated that he doesn’t believe droves of people coming from out of town should be a major concern and has so far seen no impact in Cottage Grove in that regard.
He noted that he has recognized many of the people using the shelter as people who use Community Sharing’s other services in the community.
“And at the end of the day, we’re here to serve folks,” he said. “We don’t we don’t want anybody being impacted by the severe cold.”
Besides the Pallet Shelter amenities, the warming shelter offers a range of its own provisions such as storage lockers, toilets and washing stations, a smoking area, access to first-aid supplies, donated clothing, referrals to other resource agencies and bike and car parking.
There is a “hospitality suite” in the center of the site with snacks, hot drinks, hygiene products and donated clothing for all and pets are even allowed, though must be cleaned up after.
Community Sharing guarantees that all personal data collected will be protected as well.
A plan to include a mobile shower/restroom trailer at the site, also managed by Community Sharing, is currently in the works. However, ongoing construction of the trailer may delay its arrival beyond the shelter’s seasonal operation.
Keeping the shelter going will rely largely on securing feet on the ground during activation.
“One of the other factors to remember as well is we may not activate because of staffing or volunteer levels,” said Fleck. “Even if we do know that the weather is going to trigger [activation].”
Community Sharing has hired six people to help at the shelter and is looking at hiring two more in an effort to avoid such a situation.
Despite the constant need for personnel during activation nights, Fleck said many volunteers have already generously donated their time to see to tasks such as laundry, sanitizing and food distribution.
While the help has been appreciated, Fleck is hopeful more will comes forward to volunteer.
“We need people there when we set up, we need people there to man the hospitality suite, we need folks to help us tear it down in the morning,” he said.
The shelter also maintains a wish list of items on its website it is accepting as donations. In particular, clients who have used the shelter have been in need of cold-weather gloves.
Going forward, Fleck hopes to further refine the process and thus be well-equipped for the next season.
“We are certainly open to any suggestions on ways to improve,” he said.
For more information or to check if the warming shelter is active, go to communitysharing.org and click on the “Warming Shelter” tab. Call 541-674-3895 for activation updates.
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