“I hear so much flak out on the street. I get flipped off, people say ‘get a job.’ I hear so much BS — it just rolls off my shoulder. I’m like, ‘Whatever you think, it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m goin’ on.’” — Chuck, a Warming Shelter guest.
Not his real name, but those are his real words.
The scene is Hood River Warming Shelter, and the words are said to a caring volunteer who takes the time on a Wednesday night to listen to Chuck and what he’s experienced in the past week.
Bev Carpenter is greeting guests at Hood River Warming Shelter, which operates nightly from mid-November to mid-March.
Warming Shelter is a volunteer-driven service to the homeless, and open to anyone who needs a bed, a comfortable place to have a meal and hang out, and some conversation.
“Every year we seem to have a better and better system,” said Rev. Anna Carmichael, pastor at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.
Guests have a bed, a hot meal, and access to laundry (at Eco Laundry), and showers (at Hood River Pool), and the chance to see a doctor, along with resources and referrals to mental health and other services.
Among the changes this year is the “Laundry Love” program at the laundry; at scheduled times, volunteers with stacks of quarters are at Eco Laundry to meet guests for their clothes washing needs.
“Laundry Love is working out well, though we had to remind guests not to hang out after the service is provided, but we’ve had volunteers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate with the shelter so it’s allowed other folks to be involved and be invested in the success of the shelter,” Carmichael said. “The volunteers have started to get to know some of those guests and how to identify them on the street and say hello and practice hospitality.”
Daily through March 15
4140 Westcliff • 541-399-2057 • hoodrivercares.org
CAT bus leaves for shelter daily at 5 p.m.
Check-in is from 6-9 p.m., and guests leave at 7 a.m.
No smoking or drugs, sexual activity, or weapons.
The shelter provides a clean bed, meals, and even a plastic container to keep belongings safe throughout the day.
Many guests will arrive at 6:30 or 7 p.m. and see to their needs, have a meal, and then soon turn in. Others might sit around the table in the kitchen, have a cookie or other dessert and a cup of coffee, play a board game, read, or talk with each other or the volunteers. Lights-out is at 9:30, and wake-up at 5:30 a.m.; guests help with bathroom cleanup and other details in the morning, and must be out of the building and off the property by 7 a.m.
Two volunteers are always present, in three shifts until 10 p.m.: 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., and 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. in addition to the week’s shelter host, who helps get people settled in from 6-8 p.m.
Tom Penchoen has been a volunteer since the shelter’s inception in 2010, when Andy Wade and others heard that a homeless man had frozen to death. They formed a group of volunteers who would be on hand at rotating locations when the temperature hit 32 degrees or less. (Three years ago the shelter scheduled changed to nightly, regardless of the mercury.)
“Somebody needs to,” Penchoen said, when asked why he volunteers. “We see the need in the community. Other people have to help the ones who are without. We can’t have people freeze in Hood River. It’s a modest arrangement.”
“I can do this and make a difference,” said Bev Carpenter, a four-year volunteer. She said she is motivated by memories of having a close family member who was an alcoholic (though not all shelter guests are dealing with any forms of addition).
“That’s one reason. And I was a school teacher for 35 years and what’s important to help make a change in someone’s life,” Carpenter said. ”I’ve had students I knew from seventh grade who came back and they’ll tell me what a difference I made in their lives, but they can’t tell me at that time because they don’t know.
“I’m always a teacher.” She breaks off and points outside to a guest outside having a cigarette. “(Lenny) will probably never get sober, but in his sober moments, he will remember me, and I like to think I did what I could to help him be sober.”
Carmichael credits the shelter’s success to partnerships and the work of volunteers and staff.
“We have enough hosts and weekly coordinators, and volunteer coordinator in Andy Wade, and guest services coordinator Lorena Gonzalez, along with Dr. Laura Starrett,” a physician who comes in once a week to consult with guests. Hosts work two hours a night for a week, once a month, and Gonzalez works 15 hours a month.
“We have a good working relationship with Mid-Columbia Center for Living, and Lorena (Gonzalez) has been a good liaison with them,” Carmichael said.
The four hosts are Tom Penchoen, Alan Wiebe, Bev Carpenter and Sandy Spellecy.
“Lorena a critical piece so the rest of the staff not overworked,” Carmichael said. “It’s a constant work in progress.”
All funding is through private and church donations, occasionally a matching grant with an employer, and two major fundraisers in 2015.
“Our ongoing challenge is with the unhoused population,” Carmichael said. “Folks get into that for a variety of reasons: financial, addiction, mental health, and a constant challenge is to constantly learn about how people become unhoused, and sort out what are the things we can have a direct impact on and what are the things to export,” to partnering groups such as Mid-Columbia Center for Living, a counseling center on the Heights long-time shelter partner. (For two years the center took its turn in the shelter site rotation.)
“This year, we have had one or two guests with serious mental health issues and being able to connect them with resources has been invaluable. We’re not mental health professionals and we’re aware of that,” Carmichael said.
The shelter is the only program of its kind in Mid-Columbia.
“We have no transitional housing on this side of the river, no immediate system set up, and that is a piece we’re constantly working on.
“We’ve been in consultation with other shelters in the Gorge and eastern Oregon and we are constantly improving our (system) which I believe allows us provide better services every year.”
Guests get dinner and breakfast, which funding has helped expand in the past two years. Chef Mark Whitehead has been an active volunteer, preparing and delivering sandwiches and other food three and four years ago, and cooking the past two years.
“It’s something that I can do with my cooking skills that can help other people,” said Whitehead, who uses the Episcopal Church’s commercially-approved kitchen, where he had prepared sandwiches and other simple meals in years past. Other volunteers collect the food twice a week and deliver it to the shelter.
“One day I thought, ‘We can do more than sandwiches,’” Whitehead said. “They were great, but we should get the guests some hot food.” He approached Carmichael about expanding the program.
“For me, food and family have always gone together. Food is family, so this is a way of providing something like that for the guests,” Whitehead said.
One night a week, Pelinti‘s Pizza takes care of dinner.
On Wednesday, owner Gabe Head and his wife, Kelsey, deliver a stack of hot pizzas with their sons, Cale, 8, Miles, 6.
For the Head family, it’s more than just a pizza delivery.
A guest (Jake) comes up and Gabe asks him, “Did you get your interview?”
“Yes, I did, I go in next week,” Jake said.
“Thanks, and it’s a pleasure to have the pizza.”
“It’s our pleasure,” Gabe said.
Jake: “It is well appreciated.”
“It was the boys’ idea to start bringing cookies,” Kelsey said. “Next week, home baked.”
“It’s been good for them,” Gabe said. “Not everyone is as fortunate as we are.”
The shelter moved around in past years, but in 2015 the committee found a permanent home for this season, the former “Fruit Tree” building, most recently a changing string of restaurants, empty since 2013, on Westcliff Drive. Owner Mark Betz built it in 1989, and it was The Fruit Tree gift shop until 2001.
In years past, the shelter switched each week between churches and Mid-Columbia Center for Living, requiring packing up mattresses and equipment, and outreach challenges given the changing location. In the last half of the previous season, the Port of Hood River leased a space in the Expo Center annex, alleviating the need for mobility last year.
The shelter location for next year is still unknown, according to Carmichael, shelter committee chair.
“The current location we anticipated would be one of our greatest challenges, that and keeping good relationships with neighbors on Westcliff Drive,” she said. (The shelter is next door to Charburger Restaurant and several private homes.)
“The guests have taken the opportunity to catch the CAT bus in the evening, or they walk down;” she said, a distance of about two miles from downtown. She said regular guests ”have a routine down of how they spend their day and what time to head to the shelter. In the morning they leave on foot. I don’t think it’s been as big a stretch as we had anticipated. Those of us who are housed and have accessible transportation worried about it more than our guests.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be in one location, and we are incredibly grateful to Mark Betz for working with us.”
“I’m really glad to have them,” Betz said Wednesday, stopping in to deal with a plumbing issue. “The building was available and it fills a need.”
Shelter can be a social situation, and every guest is different. Some might hardly say a word, while others talk about their times on the streets, their job searches, their medical problems (and solutions) or their jobs or job searches.
Some guests are employed, but unable to afford a place, while others might have work sometimes. Others have something like a chronic homeless situation.
The guest “census” changes from week to week in sheer numbers, but it’s normally about 10 people a night (men and women, and arrangements are made for families either at the facility or a local motel).
So far the shelter has served 56 different guests and a total of 557 bed nights.
If you are interested in helping financially, go to Hoodrivercares.org, which includes information on making financial donations via PayPal link.
Anyone interested in volunteering, contact Andy Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org (Volunteers receive training to respond to complaints, crises, and emergencies.)
If you have ideas about locations or for partnering, contact Carmichael at email@example.com.