Shelter From the Storm

Kristy Tallman

As warnings of a winter storm covered the airways, folks around Sweet Home began to prepare for what might come. Temperatures were falling quickly and ice was on the way. It was promised to be a bad storm and the promise was fulfilled.

According to City Manager Kelcey Young, the city was as prepared as it could be for what would turn out to be a very long storm. Due to a change in the weather the system stalled, causing the ice to pile on Sweet Home and surrounding areas.

The city geared up the road crews and made sure the roads were sanded while the police station immediately opened a warming center in the lobby of their station in the event someone needed a place to stay.They were the only ones in town with a generator.

The Riggs Senior Center was also opened later on Monday as a warming center offering warm showers and a place to stay for those affected by the electrical outages. This was the first opportunity to open the center because of the power outages.

“One thing the city doesn’t have is generators so we were without power as well,” said Kelsey. “This was a rough storm for everyone, with nearly seven layers of ice. We were all unable to get out.”

Kelsey said of those who worked on restoring the city after the storm, “Everyone who was working on getting us back up and running were exceptional!” Young said, “I was greatly impressed by the work done by road crews, electricians, tree trimmers and all, We can’t thank them enough for all their hard work.”

According to Nick Tyler, Sweet Home Fire Department Chief, rescue services did not have to respond to any shelter issues where there was someone in need of shelter, nor did they have any weather related medical emergencies such as hypothermia.

Tyler attributed this to the efforts of community leaders. “I think our vulnerable population was well taken care of. In addition to our normal shelters, our partners did an amazing job of opening up warming centers to provide a place to seek shelter,” said Tyler. “It’s to their credit that we did not experience an increase in calls for people needing shelter.”

At the police station three individuals waited out the storm in the lobby’s warming area. They stayed for a couple of nights each. During the storm things were peaceful and there were no incidents reported during this time.

Sean Morgan, Community Liaison for the Police, stated “As far as people calling for rides, we had some folks call in, but our officers were busy fielding calls and unfortunately we couldn’t provide that service.”

FAC Provides Shelter For Most Vulnerable

For many of us when a winter storm blows through, we are afforded the luxury of bundling up on a cozy couch without much care for what’s going on outside. For the homeless, however, that same luxury isn’t so easy to find. Fortunately for those without a place to call home in Sweet Home, there’s the Family Assistance and Resource Center (FAC) that was almost full throughout the storm.

According to Shirley Byrd the shelter, which has nine beds, had only two beds remain open during the storm; for veterans; however, she said, “No matter how many would have come we would have found room for them.”

The shelter itself stood up well to the ice storm; Byrd said they fared well in comparison to some areas of town.

“We only lost power for one day for a few hours. The former Mayor Jim Gourley and his wife brought hot pizzas down for everyone. They are really awesome and have done a great deal for the shelter.”

Byrd said they had staff who sacrificed their nights because it was too dangerous to drive home and they wanted to be on hand for their shifts the next morning. “They stayed the night, which is incredible dedication.” she said.

For the homeless, getting around on a solid sheet of ice is just as hard for them as it is for everyone else. Transportation became a true issue for some just trying to get to areas where they could stay.

With buses and shuttles quickly shut down due to icy roadways, Byrd said she felt had there been more preparation, more people would have probably made it to shelter before the storm set in. After the storm began she said getting around became virtually impossible. She said she wished the city had acted sooner in setting up the community center as a warming center.

Byrd stated that a few of her regulars were unable to get to the shelter.

“For the people that were not at the shelter, who were camped out in front of the police station, I think the city should have acted a couple days sooner and they maybe would have if it hadn’t been a holiday,” she said, “It was great they opened the community center but you needed ID to get in there and so it eliminated the possibility of a warm night with blankets and food for some who were seeking shelter.”

According to Young, anyone who needed to use the Riggs Center for shelter was encouraged to do so no matter where they were from. She had also asked all residents to remain in place and off the roadways during the five day event. This she said was one of the main things she had wished residents would have adhered to.

“I really wish everyone would have followed the advice to stay off the roadways, however we realize some of them didn’t have a choice due to work or other issues.”

The Riggs Center was manned by several volunteers and ready to welcome anyone in need.

“We hadonly two people show up.” Young said. “And they went home with one of our volunteers. That’s Sweet Home for you though, we really are a tight knit community ready to help each other out when the need arises.”

Young said those who did wish to come to the facility were not required to bring identification to stay. “We mainly said they could use their ID to make things quicker but they didn’t need an ID to get it. The reason we were taking information down when they arrived was to be able to notify them if there was a problem with their properties or there was a need to contact them.”