A ‘long season’ for the Warming Place

Snow covers streets and trees in downtown The Dalles.

The Warming Place, which was unable early in the season to staff the shelter all nights of the week, has gained enough volunteers to stay open when needed, an official said.

That need has been constant for most of February, said Ed Elliott, chair of the Warming Place board. In mid-January the homeless shelter was finally able to get volunteers to staff it Wednesday and Thursday nights. Earlier in the season, it had been unable to open on those nights due to lack of volunteers.

The Warming Place also got a state grant for paid staff to open the shelter in the early evening, so volunteers who previously had to come at 6:30 p.m. now come at 8:30 p.m. The paid staff stays until 9 p.m., when the doors close for the evening, Elliott said. Those who stay the night must leave by 7 a.m. the next morning.

The shelter has 60 volunteers, just half of what it had two years ago, Elliott said. “But it’s been enough to get us through the season pretty well.” There are even enough that volunteers aren’t asked to serve every week, he said.

The shelter is always in need of volunteers and has gotten leads from reader boards, word of mouth, The Dalles Happenings community page on Facebook, and a column written in The Chronicle by The Dalles Police Chief Patrick Ashmore, Elliott said.

Potential volunteers are still reaching out, he said, with one new one ready for the hour-long training this week.

The shelter uses two volunteers per shift, for safety reasons and to have witnesses in case somebody claims something improper happened.

Elliott said that even though the season is almost over, “It doesn’t mean we can’t use people to help out for a night or two.” They would also be trained and ready to help next year, he said. To volunteer, call Elliott at 541-386-5857.

The season is set to end on Saturday, March 16, but the shelter will stay open longer if weather calls for it. “We have supposedly only two weeks left, unless winter decides it wants to live here, which right now it looks like it wants to do that,” he said.

“It’s been a long season, typically we get a lot of nights, but they’re not consecutive, like the month of February” has been, he said.

On Wednesday, he estimated the shelter had been open about 70 days for the season. The shelter opens if the temperature is 30 degrees or below including wind chill, Elliott said.

Occupancy has held steady at 14 during the latest cold snap, he said. “It’s kind of like the same people every night, so it’s not like we get new people.” Twelve of the 14 are men.

“They all get along fine,” he said of the people using the shelter. “We know there’s some of them that don’t really like each other, but it never comes out.”

Volunteers called police only once this season, and that was recently when two men were fighting over a pair of boots. The issue was resolved when police arrived.

The capacity for the shelter, located at 315 W. 3rd St., the offices of St. Vincent de Paul, is 19 people, but newer, larger cots have probably reduced that number to 15 or 16, Elliott said.

One volunteer was new to the area last fall and reached out saying she wanted to help out, since she’d done similar work elsewhere, Elliott said. “It’s always encouraging when somebody comes along and they really, really want to get involved.”

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