News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters cold weather shelter can’t open

The cold of winter has arrived in Sisters with nighttime temperatures well below freezing, forecasts for snow, and the need for the requisite warm hats, gloves, and coats.

For someone who is currently unhoused, living outside or in their car, the winter weather is much more than a seasonal inconvenience. Winter temperatures can claim lives of those who lack shelter or a source of heat.

The presence of COVID-19 has prevented the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter from opening its doors this winter to offer warm shelter at night, food, and connections to community resources. The churches that have in the past offered their facilities for a month of shelter space are unable to do so this year due to the pandemic. Many of the volunteers who have served as shelter monitors the past four winters are considered members of a high-risk group for COVID — seniors — making it difficult to recruit the necessary personnel even if the churches could offer space.

For the handful of local long-time Sisters residents who have utilized the shelter in previous winters, individual volunteers with the shelter group keep in close touch with this population. Propane and other supplies are purchased by donation or from the shelter’s nonprofit funds. Some items are also provided by the two Habitat for Humanity stores. A donation of warm clothing was given to the shelter committee by another nonprofit. These are also handed out as needed. There is always a need for wool socks and other winter clothing.

According to Jim Prichard, who serves with the local shelter, “People who are passing through Sisters are given vouchers or other supplies as needed. If they need shelter, they are given the location of shelters in neighboring towns.”

Jill Eidsmoe, shelter committee member, is daily making up high-calorie/protein snack bags to hand out to those needing supplemental nutrition when restaurants are closed. She includes such items as vacuum-packed tuna and crackers, or peanut butter and crackers packets, candy bars, granola bars, nuts, meat jerky and juice boxes. Anyone wishing to help with the bags, either assembling or providing supplies, can contact Eisdmoe at [email protected]

Another way to assist in providing for our unhoused neighbors is to purchase gift cards for local eateries and merchants. Those cards, as well as monetary donations, can be dropped off at the Habitat for Humanity office located upstairs at 141 W. Main Ave., or mailed to PO Box 238, Sisters, OR 97759.

“We are blessed to have a caring community who have made the effort to connect with our houseless neighbors. This is so important and helps us determine what is really needed by these folks,” said Prichard.

Shelters in other Central Oregon communities have been able to open, including in Bend, Redmond, Madras, Prineville, and Warm Springs (see sidebar for information).

Those needing rides to get to other shelters can utilize Cascades East Transit, which has been free to ride since October 2020 (see schedule in sidebar). Riders must wear masks, bandanas, or scarves over their nose and mouth at all times on the bus while maintaining social distance.


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