Shelter Services: The shelter needs a home

Hood River Warming Shelter, the winter service of the non-profit Hood River Shelter Services, faces an 11th hour search for a place that can serve as a shelter for homeless members of the community, from November through March.

Even an interim, 2016-17 season, solution is needed soon. The program deserves support because it is a demonstration of how this community can care for the people among us who are most in need.

The delayed opening date of Nov. 22 approaches. Fortunately, temperatures have been moderate at night. That may change at any time. If you have a potential place, or ideas for the committee, contact co-directors Jan Miller at 425-223-0816 or Carol Dearholt at 547-490-1920.

In a recent column in this newspaper, shelter board member John Boonstra wrote, “This year, with the cold season breathing down our backs, the warming shelter volunteers have been trying to identify a hosting site in our community. Although they have financial resources to rent space, they have been combing our streets and thus far have been unable to secure a location for the shelter.”

Boonstra wrote with a note of despair: “It is not that empty buildings do not exist. Rather, it is our commitment to care for the vulnerable that appears to be lacking. Responses from property owners have included: “No, we cannot rent to the homeless.” “I worked, why can’t these homeless folks work — I cannot let them in to the empty places we own.” “Our location is too near where our children play and go to school.” “Our property is not an appropriate site to have the homeless visibly there every night.” “If we have a shelter in our facility, no one will ever want to rent this space again.”

While the concerns are generally understandable, several factors defray them: first and foremost is the commitment of the shelter committee and its volunteers to ensuring the shelter site is safe and well-cared for. Second is the strong and vibrant local economy; a building well-suited for a business is not likely to be made less so by a temporary use as a place of shelter. Third, the guests of the shelter cannot, and should not, be subject to stereotype: people with homes and families with children have used the shelter at times. Guests include those who live “on the street,” but they also include people who come to the shelter for a night or two when they have run out of money for heat or when they have lost their rental and need an interim place to sleep safely.

Shelter Services is at its core about keeping people warm and safe, but its scope goes far beyond a bed and a couple of meals. Guests have access to laundry, a shower, fresh socks and other winter needs, as well as medical checkups, resource and referral to mental health and dental care, counseling, job search assistance, and more.

Paid staff help in each night’s shelter, and this year Shelter Services added not only a Sunday afternoon “Cooling Shelter” this summer and fall, but acquired a bus to transport guests, a reflection of the continual efficiency fine-tuning of the shelter system.

Boonstra asked us not to ignore “the frightening realities that could create homelessness for each of us at any time.”

Think of it as Hood River Shelter Services needing a home to use as a place to help people who truly need it.

The organization is in transition, with new co-directors to go to with seasoned committee members, volunteers, hosts, and professional support. Founder Andy Wade remains integrally involved. Now in its eighth year, Shelter Services is an established part of the community. The most recent volunteer training session drew 14 new volunteers, evidence that people in this community are willing to give up hours of their time to help make the shelter possible.

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