Shelter receives support, needs space
Last updated 9/6/2022 at Noon
Support has been tremendous from community members for the Cold Weather Shelter, board members reported at their meeting last week.
They pointed to the volunteer monitors, mainly from the local churches, who serve meals and cover the Shelter from 5:30 to 10 p.m. There have been monetary as well as material donations.
The City Council just awarded a $1,250 grant for pantry provisions. A benefit concert this summer at Sisters Community Church netted $3,600 in donations for the Shelter. Angeline’s Bakery provided leftover baked goods last year. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Sisters Church of the Nazarene each provided one meal a week during shelter season. The Family Kitchen provided meals as well. Sisters residents have provided propane, water, and gasoline on occasion.
The major problem facing the Shelter this year is the lack of a location. Last year, COVID-19 was a big concern. Sisters Community Church and Wellhouse opened their doors for November and December 2021. In January, February, and March the Shelter rented the former Habitat for Humanity offices on Main Avenue. The scramble to find space for January left no time to notify the neighboring businesses of their presence before guests began arriving. That created some concern and a rough start for the Shelter in that location, but the situation resolved itself.
This year, for a variety of reasons, churches are unable to provide shelter space. Sisters Community Church and Vast Church have merged, which has created a congregation of 350, with a very large youth group that will utilize The Hangar where the Shelter was housed.
The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration wanted their members to serve as monitors, but not enough people have volunteered, so it is unavailable. Last year, they were unable to participate because they wanted proof of vaccination for COVID-19 from the Shelter guests. Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church offered space one winter, but their physical layout doesn’t work well for the Shelter.
Wellhouse Church is unable to confirm one way or the other, as the building where the shelter was housed is currently undergoing remodeling, which will result in a number of offices which will be occupied when completed. A decision will be made at a later date.
During the 2021-22 winter, the Shelter provided for 40 different people over the winter, averaging about 10 guests for dinner and five or six for the night. The board reported that, since the Shelter opened in 2017, permanent housing has been found for a variety of former guests, which is one of their goals.
According to board members, those now utilizing the Shelter are, for the most part, those with no resources and multiple barriers to employment. Some experience chronic mental illness, are not employed or have only odd jobs, and have difficulty caring for themselves. Some who come for dinner return to their campsites for the night. Most of the people who camp in the woods are more self-reliant; 40 percent live in campers, cars, and hard-shell shelters. Those with animals prefer to stay at their campsite so they don’t have to leave their pets for the night.
The Sisters Cold Weather Shelter is considered a low-barrier shelter, which means guests can’t use drugs or alcohol on site, but don’t have to be abstaining from using generally.
The Shelter board reported they have the resources to pay for renting space(s), but appropriate spaces are scarce. They need room to put four to six sleeping mats on the floor, bathroom facilities, and some type of kitchen availability. They are proud to report they have never not served a meal.
The shelter has a good working relationship with the Sisters deputies of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, who occasionally bring them a guest who needs to get out of the cold.
The 5:30 to 10 p.m. monitors are volunteers, and those who cover 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. (two people) are paid. The organizers are looking for both types of monitors for the coming winter. The volunteer monitors check guests in as they arrive and serve dinner. The overnight monitors serve a simple breakfast and sanitize the space after guests leave.
The Shelter board is hoping for a solution to the lack of shelter space to come from the community. Money is not the issue. As noted, they have funds to pay to rent or lease space(s). Some of the grants for which they could apply require they already have a shelter space.
Anyone with available space or a good idea is asked to contact the board at [email protected] The shelter season is mid-November to mid-March.