With temps expected to dip below freezing, shelter will end up being open five nights this week
Update: The emergency severe weather shelter at 2200 Ashland St. will open at 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, the city of Ashland announced Tuesday. The shelter will open from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. the next morning. This is a low barrier, no frill, overnight shelter for anyone needing to get out of the cold. The doors close and lights out by 10 p.m. According to the National Weather Service, overnight lows those nights are expected to be 31, 28 and 30, Nov. 23-25, respectively.
By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news
Sunday night’s forecast low of 30 degrees triggered the opening of Ashland’s severe weather shelter at 2200 Ashland St. for the first time this season — only three days after a training for potential volunteers was held in the space.
Saturday afternoon, the city announced the severe weather shelter would open both Sunday and Monday nights, Nov. 19 and 20.
Last Thursday night around 25 people filed into a spare room with white walls and concrete floors to learn how they could help the city operate the shelter. In a ring of folding chairs, attendees listened to Ashland’s Emergency Manager Kelly Burns and the shelter’s Volunteer Coordinator Avram Sacks as they described what to expect and what’s needed.
“It is low barrier, which means anybody can come in here. … They’re not vetted for criminal history or anything like that. Anyone that comes in, they just need a quiet safe space to sleep and get out of the weather,” Burns said.
The severe weather shelter will be operated overnight, from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. When the doors open, guests are often waiting outside to come in and get warm, Sacks said. Guests sign in and agree to a list of rules.
“I agree to treat everyone with respect, kindness, and love. No drugs, alcohol, or smoking in shelter. No weapons. Speak respectfully. Quiet hours from 9:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.,” according to information distributed at the training.
A door connecting the empty room to the remainder of the building at 2200 Ashland St. will always be locked. On the other side is the city’s Emergency Shelter — already filled with prescreened applicants including families with small children. Volunteers need to have a working cell phone to not only receive texts for when volunteers are needed but to call 911 in the event of a medical emergency or conflict. Conflicts are rare, Sacks said — it’s more common for guests to arrive depleted of energy.
“Half the people that come in here just go right to sleep. They don’t even eat. It takes a lot of energy to be out in the cold all day,” Sacks said.
Two staff members from Opportunities for Housing, Resources & Assistance (OHRA) will run the shelter overnight. Sacks divided the need for volunteers into two categories — donations of food or staffing and acting as “listeners.”
There is no kitchen available on site and fire code prohibits anything but a coffee pot and a microwave. Volunteers will need to cook, transport and potentially serve breakfast or dinner. Flexibility is key for the shelter’s success, he said. Volunteers can adjust their hours or only drop-off food. Those staffing the shelter can choose between a handful of hours in the morning or evening and should be prepared to balance compassion and boundaries but, most importantly, offer eye contact and a non-judgmental ear, Sacks said.
“For me, a big part of it is interacting with guests. Getting to talk to them, we really get to know them and then I run into them on the street and continue that conversation,” said returning volunteer Mei Wen Richardson.
In accordance with the fire code, the severe weather shelter can only accept 28 guests who will each be provided mats on the ground for sleeping. Aside from donated food, an allowance for pets, and sleeping mats, Burns emphasized the shelter is “no frills.”
There are always people who show up with nothing, Sacks said. Every year people come in from a storm, unable to make it any further on Interstate 5 or get a hotel room. Homeless advocate Debbie Nieswander stated when camps are cleared by police, sometimes blankets, sleeping bags, tents and tarps are disposed of as a health risk.
“We can always use donations,” she said.
Training attendees turned to brainstorming how to make the shelter more comfortable for guests. Some mentioned the searing fluorescent bulbs, the sole source of light for the room. Sacks asked for donations of lamps to create a softer environment. Anyone willing to ask carpet suppliers for remnants to cover the concrete floor would also be appreciated, he said.
From the back of the room, Eric Janoski with the Jackson County Housing Authority asked about setting up donation sites throughout Ashland for blankets and sleeping supplies. Returning volunteer Angelo Short asked how homeless people will make it across town to the shelter. Janoski suggested finding a way to distribute bus tokens.
“Those are good questions. There are a lot of issues to solve for, we’re not going to solve them all tonight,” Burns said.
As emergency manager, Burns will call for the severe weather shelter to open. Through the winter months, the shelter will be called up to 48 hours in advance of temperatures dropping below 32 degrees or depending on conditions such as wind, snow and rain.
The shelter will be run from 5 p.m., Sunday Nov. 19 to 9 a.m, Monday and again from 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 21 to 9 a.m. Tuesday. To receive notifications for shelter activations in Ashland, text 97520SHELTER to 888777. To volunteer for the shelter, contact Sacks by phone at 541-220-7307 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at email@example.com.
Nov. 21: Corrected the name of Opportunities for Housing, Resources & Assistance.