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The Community Action Team planned to open Columbia County’s only overnight weather center on Monday night, Jan. 13, for those people needing a place to get out of the cold winter conditions.

The center opens when temperatures fall below 32 degrees. The facility is inside the Community Action Team’s building, at 125 N 17th St. in St. Helens and offers a warm, dry place with sleeping cots and other amenities.

“When we are open, those using the center can sign up for showers and use our laundry facilities,” Community Action Team housing program manager Heather Johnson said. “We also offer toiletries, socks, stocking caps and coats and we serve warm snacks, like soup, coffee, coco and tea.”

While the Action Team does purchase some of the amenities, Johnson said other items are donated by the community.

The center has been operated by the Community Action team since 2017. The center opens when the Community Action Team has enough volunteers to staff the facility, usually about six volunteers per night.

“Staff supports the center, but can’t work all the hours because they are here during the day, so we rely heavily on volunteers,” Johnson said. “If we don’t have enough volunteers, than we don’t open. The warming center could not operate without the volunteers. We are so very grateful for their commitment."

Because of the wintry weather, Johnson expects that the center will be operating each night this week, except Friday, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. The Warming Center opened for nine nights since Dec. 1. This week’s opening is the first in 2020.

Johnson said that 36 people were served at the center in 2019. Several of those people took advantage of the Action Team’s community resource referrals.

“We are navigating anyone who wishes through those resources, connecting them, so we are working with them to develop a housing plan if they need and want one,” Johnson said. “Of the 36 individuals that took advantage of the warming center last year, 18 were housed in permanent housing. Because of our resource connections, those individuals were able to find housing.”

Johnson said the Action Team does outreach in surrounding communities, such as Clatskanie and Rainier and Vernonia, offering bus tickets to the center prior to adverse weather conditions.

“It is really inconvenient and we have not yet had anyone take advantage of that,” she said. “We are looking at ways to expand to those outlying communities, but it is challenging to find a location and the volunteers needed.”

Those wising to use the warming check should check in from 8-10 p.m. at the facility at 125 N. 17th Street, in St. Helens.

For more details, call 503-366-6559.

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