The below freezing nighttime temperatures have begun and the calendar says it is now December.
According to Heather Johnson, Housing Program Manager with the Community Action Team, that means the Columbia County Warming Center (CCWC) center may be open a number of nights this week, depending on the weather.
“I try to make a decision about each night in the morning by 9 a.m. so that we have volunteers to staff the center,” she said.
While the need for shelter from the cold never totally disappears, without ample volunteers, it can be hard to meet the need. That is the issue facing Johnson as winter approaches and she is eagerly seeking additional volunteers to staff CCWC.
I have a core of “seasoned” volunteers,” she said. “But to be adequately staffed, I need about 60 willing and available people.”
Each night the thermometer is predicted to drop below freezing between December 1 and March 1, Johnson needs six volunteers covering three shifts throughout the night to open the doors. Being just one volunteer short can send half a dozen people or more into the night seeking alternative shelter.
“It truly is an example of how one person can make a big difference,” said Johnson.
The tricky part for volunteers may be the unpredictability of when the CCWC will be open. It is all weather dependent.
CCWC shifts are about four hours in length and run from 7:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. One must be over the age of 18 and pass a criminal background check. The CCWC provides training. New volunteers will initially be paired with a more experienced volunteer.
The 7:30 p.m. shift involves preparing the room used as the CCWC for the night and checking in guests before locking the doors at 10 p.m.
The midnight to 4 a.m. shift, the hardest one to fill for Johnson, essentially keeps an eye on the building, makes sure the guests are comfortable and secure, and assures smooth operation of the CCWC. The 4 a.m. shift piks up where the midnight shift leaves off before awakening guests in the morning and clearing the room so it can be returned to its daytime uses.
The center is open to anyone who needs to access its services, which can include shelter, a shower, laundry facilities, and warm food.
Check in is from 8 to10 pm. Pets will be permitted this year but are required to be kenneled (limited kennels provided). Other rules include, no smoking, alcohol, or drugs in the center. Weapons are prohibited and can be checked-in and locked up for the night.
After 10 p.m., there are no “in-and-out” privileges. If a person checks-in and then wants to leave after 10 p.m., they will not be allowed back in.
Showers are available in 20-minute increments on a first-come-first-served basis. There are also laundry facilities available on the same basis.
“For those services, I suggest people arrive as early a possible to allow enough time to make use of the services,” said Johnson.
The center, Located at the Community Action Team building at 125 N. 17th St. in St. Helens, serves all of Columbia County. For those in Clatskanie, free CC Rider tickets can be picked up in at the Clatskanie Library to help those needing to get to the center a ride.
Up-to-date status of CCWC openings each day can be found at https:/www.flashalert.net/id/ccwc.
In addition, signs are posted in prominent public spaces across the county to let people know when the shelter will be open.
If you wish to volunteer at CCWC, contact Johnson during business hours at 503-366-6559.