Shelters scramble to meet need in freezing temps
Local churches expand hours for severe-weather shelters last week and over weekend
John White's power went out in the early morning Wednesday, Jan. 4.
And that got the Forest Grove resident thinking "about how close all of us are to a really cold night."
White, a Pacific University professor of occupational therapy, started imagining "what it would be like to be out in that cold and how hard that would be."
He imagined just in time to help Sonrise Forest Grove Church, which was scrambling to keep its severe-weather shelter open another day.
The church-run shelter isn't usually open Thursdays, but with the unusual cold front coming through, church leaders were desperate to find anyone willing to help.
White was one of several last-minute volunteers. They showed up early for a crash-course training session and managed to provide about 15 homeless people with the blessings of the shelter: a warm, dry haven from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., a warm dinner, a comfortable place to sleep and a hearty breakfast.
The shelter will be open next Thursday night, too, if it can find the support.
Sonrise volunteer Brian Schimmel said they're welcoming any volunteers they can get even if they haven't completed the official training offered earlier this fall. They are especially desperate for volunteers to work the overnight shift.
"I wish we could open more days during the week than we are but we are limited by the amount of volunteers, as well as food," said Cindy Kyser, meal and staffing coordinator for Sonrise and the Forest Grove United Church of Christ (FGUCC).
The FGUCC opens its doors Monday and Tuesday nights.
Having a shelter four nights a week is a great help to many local homeless residents, but they struggle to find shelter for the other three, no more so than last weekend when snow and ice hit the Portland metro area.
That's why Sonrise decided last minute to open their doors Saturday night as well.
Friday morning they offered guests bus passes so they could get to Hillsboro and Tigard, where warming shelters are offered.
Both the Sonrise and FGUCC shelters can accommodate 15 individuals along with two families or a couple of ill people.
FGUCC Pastor Jennifer Yocum said their shelter has been filled to capacity most days this season, forcing volunteers to turn people away.
Sonrise was nearly full as well Thursday with 15 for dinner and 13 overnight after one sick man went to the emergency room and one person found another option.
A recently married couple — the woman in her last trimester of pregnancy — were among Sonrise's Thursday night guests, along with a woman who is eligible for government housing assistance but hasn't been able to find an apartment in her price range. There were also a few guests younger than 30, who are recently homeless, White said.
The experience leaves overnight volunteers tired, but "it sure made me grateful for what I have," White said. "And it makes me frustrated there's not a greater support network and housing system for people, especially those with mental illnesses."
The Thursday evening atmosphere at Sonrise was respectful and drama-free, White said, but he was surprised by how loud it was in the space, filled with coughing, wheezing and snoring.
Overall the guests were positive and hopeful their situations will change, White said. "I'm amazed at the resilience of human beings."
Want to volunteer?