Homeless shelter at Fir Lawn offering help to needy on cold nights

Sean C. Morgan

A group of volunteers, called ONE SHELTeR – Sweet Home Emergency Low Temperature Refuge, are trying to ensure that homeless people don’t freeze overnight from sleeping outdoors, and Fir Lawn Lutheran Church has opened its building to help.

“We’ve been talking about this for about a month,” said Joe Medley, pastor at Fir Lawn and the United Methodist Church. “We realize homelessness is a big problem on several different levels.”

But ONE Sweet Home, a local group of people of faith working with people of goodwill to solve community issues, was specifically concerned about finding a warm place for the homeless to sleep during extreme weather.

“We decided to go check out a shelter in Silverton,” Medley said. A church there, which isn’t as well-suited as Fir Lawn, is housing 20 people a night.

That shelter started in 2016 and is open to the homeless every single night four months annually, said Janet McInerney, who is coordinating volunteers for ONE SHELTeR. Three women went around the Silverton community and talked to homeless people, then opened up the shelter three days later.

“We’re learning as we go,” McInerney said of the Sweet Home effort, which is modeled on that one. The facility at Fir Lawn opened Feb. 9 and will remain open at least through the end of this week.

“Running something like this is far less expensive than a 24-hour shelter,” Medley said, but it’s probably the most critical time to get homeless people some help.

The United Methodist Church operated an emergency shelter several years ago, Medley said. “This is a congregation that has 40 people, and they do these Herculean efforts.”

That program wasn’t as effective at getting community volunteers to help out, he said, and the church eventually discontinued the program.

“This one, off the bat, is more broad-based,” Medley said. It is not a ministry of the United Methodist Church or Fir Lawn Lutheran. “This is grassroots individuals in the community trying to help.”

It’s important to avoid burning out the volunteers, Medley said, which means closing when the temperature exceeds 40 degrees and spreading out the work.

Right now, the facility is open when the temperature is 32 degrees or less or when it is cold and wet, Medley said. The group is trying to figure out an alert system to let the homeless know it’s available and to coordinate the volunteers.

Medley and McInerney said the community has been supportive with donations and volunteers, including the police and fire departments, but ONE SHELTeR has not heard much yet from local organizations.

The shelter has a large pile of donated granola bars, for example, McInerney said.

The shelter opens at 9 p.m. To keep from disturbing those who are sleeping, it stops accepting people at 11 p.m. It closes at 7 a.m.

At night, homeless visitors receive a hot soup and drink at night, and in the morning, they receive a bag breakfast and warm drink.

Those making use of the shelter, which to date is two homeless persons, sleep on rolled mats on the floor, McInerney said. They each receive a nice quilt and pillow. Those are all cleaned once the homeless person stops using them.

Each homeless person using the shelter has a plastic tote where they can store their mats and supplies.

The group is a stickler on sanitation, Medley said. “They leave this place spotless in the morning.”

The area used at Fir Lawn has vinyl flooring and metal chairs, which are all easy to clean.

“This is a benefit to the community,” he said. “People just trying to keep warm are going to do some damage.”

This helps get them out of doorways and off the streets where they can stay warm, he said. Fir Lawn is a great facility for it, but it may not be best given its location on the west end of town up a hill, so the group is looking at other possibilities.

The shelter has about 17 volunteers, who work in pairs each night, McInerney said. With enough volunteers, they could work in shorter shifts.

The group also needs more men to volunteer, she said. Ideally, each shift has a male and female volunteering.

For more information or to volunteer or donate, contact Medley at (503) 708-0414, Amy Phillipsen at (541) 760-1414 or McInerney at (909) 615-6723.