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Warming shelter schedule leaves some cold

Ruth (Ruthie) Rader sits in a light rain for a photograph against a background of St. Peter’s Landmark, which is located across the street from The Warming Place. The center was closed Wednesday night due to warmer weather, and Rader said she would spend the night under an overhang.

Photo by Mark Gibson
Ruth (Ruthie) Rader sits in a light rain for a photograph against a background of St. Peter’s Landmark, which is located across the street from The Warming Place. The center was closed Wednesday night due to warmer weather, and Rader said she would spend the night under an overhang.

Tonight, most of us will be spending the evening indoors, sleeping in our beds, wrapped in layers of blankets to protect our fragile bodies from the winter chill.

According to the National Weather Service, it will be in the mid-forties for most of the day, but get down into the thirties overnight with a “chance of rain” throughout.

When you have to spend your nights outside, what’s the difference between 30 degrees and 31 degrees with wind chill, or 35 degrees and 36 degrees when it’s raining?

Ruth Rader, a blogger who’s spent many years living “on the road” and facing the elements, says, “Not much.”

However, at The Warming Place, housed in St. Vincent de Paul and run entirely by community volunteers, these 1-degree margins often mean the difference between Rader and other homeless individuals spending the night indoors, or sleeping out on the pavement in their sleeping bags.

“I just don’t understand it,” Rader said. “It makes no sense. It’s wintertime; cold is cold.”

With temperatures staying in the mid to upper thirties on Wednesday according to National Weather Service estimations, The Warming Place stayed closed.

After arriving in The Dalles three weeks before Christmas, Rader said she’s taken shelter at The Warming Place almost every night it was open.

“I have absolutely no problem with The Warming Place itself,” she said. “The amount of trust and kindness that goes into running it is amazing. The other day, I asked one of the volunteers why they go through all the trouble, and they just said it was ‘the right thing to do.’”

On nights when The Warming Place isn’t open, Rader said she and many others have nowhere else to go, or even a place where any of them have “the legal right to be.”

“As far as I know,” she said, “there’s a ‘no camping’ order throughout The Dalles. And since I can’t lock anything, I’m just a sitting duck out there for anyone who might want to mess with me. It’s a situation where I’m putting myself in a place I have no business being.”

Steve Schafroth, Chair of The Warming Place Committee, told The Chronicle that a portion of the difficulty centers on the fact that it’s not an autonomous organization.

“Our decisions are always run by the St. Vincent de Paul board, and we are considered to be one of their programs. About four years ago, we had a really tough cold spell where it was down around 0 degrees for three weeks in a row. A number of people who worked for organizations like the Community Meal program saw the plight of folks, so we came up with a plan to try and help people stay warm. St. Vincent’s had a space that wasn’t being used during the night, so we did what we could to solve the problem and not have to go through the long process involved in starting an entirely new program.”

At that point in time, Schafroth said, the cut-off was if the temperature dropped below 28 degrees.

When asked how the temperature standard had been decided, he said, “The question we asked ourselves at the beginning was at what temperature were people going to have a problem staying warm enough so as not to endanger their health. Over the years, we’ve made alterations to the requirements.”

In 2013, The Warming Place Committee changed its “dry weather” cut-off temperature to 30 degrees. With rain or snow added into the mix, readings of 35 degrees and below mean the doors will also be open.

“We wish we could do more,” Schafroth said. “The reality is that over the years, we’ve lost some volunteers and overall community support for the program has dwindled. This year, it’s been a bit of a struggle just keeping the operation running, let alone trying to be more generous with how often we’re open and under what conditions.

“The way it’s being run right now,” he said, “funding isn’t so much of an issue. Our primary concern is having enough volunteers to keep the doors open. That being said, it’s tough; there’s no argument that it’s cold out there. There may not be much of a difference between 30 degrees and 31 degrees, but you’ve got to have somewhere where you make a break and establish a standard. Otherwise, you end up with chaos and inconsistency.”

According to The Warming Place logs, as of Jan. 19, 276 stays had been recorded, with an average of seven to nine people each night.

On a given Tuesday night, if National Weather Service forecasts temperatures below Warming Place standards, it’s the committee’s responsibility to have volunteers scheduled to be there.

The Warming Place is staffed by two people for 12 hours per night, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Some organize their time in full-12-hour shifts, while others divide their time among four volunteers in six-hour shifts.

Each nightly group works a little bit differently and has its own coordinator.

“Technically, looking from the outside, someone could say we’ve got people to be there whether we’re scheduled to be open or not,” Schafroth said. “But the truth is that there’s a big difference between a warming place and a shelter. We’re all volunteers and almost everyone is already overworked. In order to continue operating, we have to have enough people to cover every night of the week, but some groups are pretty slim in numbers and may have already worked three weeks in a row.”

When asked what she thought of the Warming Place’s current practices, Rader said, “It’s true we’re not exactly mainstream members of the community, but we are all still human beings. And so I’m here, representing everybody, and I’m asking: How are we supposed to better ourselves if we don’t have access to a warm, safe place to sleep at night?

“It’s not a matter of being unable to appreciate what’s already being done for us, because we do — we really do. The fact is it’s just not the right fit for what’s really needed, especially not at the coldest time of the year.”

With a 40 percent chance of rain or snow this evening and a low of 30 degrees, The Warming Place should be open tonight, Jan. 30, for anyone wishing to come in out of the cold.


ruthiesky 4 years, 2 months ago

I am going to post a response to this article in my blog, "Ruthie In The Sky."


dragonlady52 4 years, 2 months ago

My heart goes out for Ruthi Radar and all of the other regular homeless folks that not only depend on The Warming Place when its extremely COLD but also the light breakfasts and the meals prepared and served fri/sat/sun.... I was a volunteer for a 12 hr shift until recently when I found a part time job. That experience was one of the most humbling things I have had and the men I met and talked with that night were so polite, grateful and they all shoed up right at 7pm when we open the doors. Something PERMANENT has to be provided in our community for those in need of our help!! Go outside on a 35 degree night and sit on your porch for 30-45 minutes out in the elements, ask yourself as the temps did late in the night, could you keep warm enough to sleep bundled up with everything you own?? We need to do MORE!!!!


Siriunsun 4 years, 2 months ago

That's a nice thought. When a person who is homeless refuses to work, as in the case of someone who has had many opportunities over 20 years or so to obtain employment and permanent housing, or a homeless person who shows signs of untreated mental illness, including violence, or when theft becomes a problem, how does a community cope? I got burned out on it over the summer. It probably only takes one bad experience with one person to ruin one's perspective of an entire segment of a population, but I still recommend caution. Especially now.


imdeanna 4 years, 2 months ago

I'm sure my message will be taken wrong, but here goes...

I am ALL for helping when/where I can, I even housed the lady interviewed above, Ruthie, for a weekend once.... but it was not a pleasant experience for me. She had a demeanor of 'expectance' while in my home...even getting mad and yelling at me for coming home at 7pm after having dinner with my daughter, complaining she had to walk UP hill to get to my house and wait for an hour for me to get home, even though I pre-warned her I would be out till the evening on the second night she was to stay. (read her blog, her gratitude was shown by severely bad mouthing me after I housed and fed her)

I am a single mom/grandma who has worked all my life to have my "warm bed' I don't have much, and I struggle every month to make ends's what I have to do...and I will not feel guilty for "spending the evening indoors, sleeping in our beds, wrapped in layers of blankets to protect our fragile bodies from the winter chill" I'm proud of what I have, and I have earned it!

I have a hard time reading this story based on Ruthie's 'unfortunate' situation. Yes I hate that anyone has to be out in this cold, and agree they should all have a place to stay warm at night, but I also know some choose this life, (read Ruthies blog, it's not just my opinion). Therefore some (not all) should also feel a bit of guilt when they start 'expecting' tax payers who work for their money to fund their lifestyle.

Ok, let the flogging begin ;)


Siriunsun 4 years, 2 months ago

No flogging from me, Deanna. I had a bad experience with Ruthie, too. Ruthie gets very angry when families who have been faced with emergencies are sheltered, and placed as higher priorities than she is on waiting lists. But when a family with children has suddenly become homeless, and Ruthie has embraced the same difficulties year after year, refusing to better her own circumstances in any way or take any responsibility, it is time to bump her off the waiting lists. Especially when children need the beds and food that Ruthie wants to consume.


nowhereman 4 years, 2 months ago

Benjamin Franklin wrote about how the native inhabitants of this land, who we and our forefathers in this country deemed savages, had a visitors tent in each village where travellers could come and stay. When the people of the village learned a stranger had come to the village everyone turned out to make sure that the visitor was comfortable and well fed, and it was considered the height of rudeness for the visitor to speak of or anyone to ask about the visitors business or intentions until after he had been fed and his needs and comforts were seen to. The woman in question is in her late 50s has a bad heart and walks with a limp. I don't know her entire story, but is she to be consigned to the cold because she is not grateful enough or because she doesn't have a child to care for? I am not trying to "flog" anyone, just raise a little awareness. Many unhoused folk are over 50 and/or battling a physical handicap or mental illness. Most are sleep deprived, because even in warm weather its illegal to sleep in a public place so they must be constantly on the move. Most have a poor diet, because they have to eat whatever someone gives them or they can buy, which is often junk food because they don't have anywhere to cook anything or any way of storing food, so a balanced nutrious diet is out of the question. They must deal with feelings of depression, lonliness and isolation that would send you or I scurrying to either the medicine cabinet or the liquor store. They are dirty because they have to choose between taking a shower (if they can find a place to do so) and putting dirty clothes back on or washing their clothes (if they can find a place to do so) and putting them on without getting clean first. They have to carry everything they have and walk everywhere they need to go, so everything they do is twice as hard and takes twice as long as it does you or I. Exactly how do you better yourself if you are old, dirty and disabled and lack the means to change any of those things? I am glad and grateful for everyone who tries to help another human being, be it with a bag of Mcdonalds food or letting them stay on your couch for a night. I encourage everyone to consider if there is anyway possible for you to volunteer at the Warming place or help out in someother way, and to be ready to be disappointed from time to time and still keep helping. People need it.


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