Emergency shelter set up in Sisters

 

Last updated 1/16/2024 at 9:39am

Photo by Bill Bartlett

The former Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce office was turned into an emergency cold weather shelter.

It was 0 degrees Fahrenheit Friday night, -5 at 8 p.m. Saturday, and -3 Sunday morning before the skies cleared after the biggest snow storm to hit Sisters in several years.

Concern started rising at the start of the week as City staff looked at the forecast, and worried that some families in Sisters could be at grave risk, especially the homeless living in the nearby woods.

On Wednesday night, at its regularly scheduled meeting, the Sisters City Council approved a staff-prepared resolution that would authorize the rapid deployment of a temporary emergency shelter. The emergency resolution runs from January 10 through January 25.

On Thursday a location was finalized - the City-owned building at 291 E. Main Ave. previously occupied by Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce.

The building has been vacant for about a year and the City is actively seeking a new tenant. On Friday morning at 10 a.m., the building was handed over to Sisters Cold Weather Shelter (SCWS) who rushed to marshal materials, supplies and volunteers. SCWS, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was the only local organization with the credentials and resources to assist the City in the effort.

Critical to the ability to open such a shelter is the need for trained and approved overnight monitors. For safety reasons a minimum of two monitors must be present. Following a series of urgent calls, SCWS worked its way through the bureaucracy, and at around 9 p.m. Friday two staff members of Oregon Department of Human Services were on scene and stayed through the night.

The shelter opened at 6 p.m. Friday. Guests needed to vacate by 7 a.m. Saturday morning pursuant to the agreement between the City and SCWS. It is still dark at 7 a.m. (sunrise was at 7:44 a.m.) and the temperature had risen to only 1 degree.

Friday night saw two persons, a man and woman, not related, present themselves. The woman did not stay the entire night.

By midday Saturday, approval was obtained to keep the shelter open 24 hours through Tuesday morning. Sisters Library is available as a warm spot through the rest of the week.

Saturday night saw three seek shelter including the man who had been there Friday night. There were four on Sunday night. Reports from both nights were that the occupants were well mannered, respectful, and grateful for the respite.

One who found shelter told The Nugget of their gratitude for the opportunity to sleep inside. The guest's name is withheld by request.

"Imagine sleeping on a bench or on a curb or in a doorway," the person said.

In addition to mattresses, linens, blankets and pillows, hot evening meals were provided and healthy fruits and snacks along with coffee are provided throughout the day by community volunteers, some of whom sign up for shifts and act as greeters and screeners - and, above all, a warm, welcoming face.

Volunteers, forest service and county health workers report that roughly 80 percent of all the homeless in Sisters have pets. Pets are often their most significant relationship. Pets were barred from the shelter under guidelines imposed by the City.

The inability to bring their pets was cited by volunteers as a primary reason so few came.

Other reasons included transportation, as some of the homeless only have bicycles, and the snow and road conditions were difficult for cyclists.

Estimates from SCWS put the number of homeless people living in the forest near Sisters during the winter at around 100.

 
 

Reader Comments(1)

York writes:

The low numbers are a bit misleading as SCWS has been working since winter began to prepare our population in the woods with shelter, namely donated campers, RV's etc, to survive a winter. For many to change gears and come into a last-minute shelter is a big move. True that animals, pets being excluded is a huge barrier. Hopefully a future consideration and solution for the animals can be planned. For those who stuck it out in the woods it was a severe hardship. As one individual said; it took years off my life.

 
 
 

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