Dec. 5, 2018 — The Florence Emergency Cold Weather Shelter is up and running this week as cold weather begins to descend on the coast. The shelter opened for the first time this year on Monday and is expected to remain open until Wednesday night. It’s also possible the doors will open Thursday as well.
The emergency shelter, which provides a hot meal and a place to warm up or stay overnight, opens when the temperature reaches 32 degrees or less. It also opens when the temperature is in the mid-30s coupled with rain.
“We had a good night [Monday],” said Pastor Greg Wood, president of the program, which is held at his church, the Presbyterian Church of the Siuslaw. “Nine people stayed in overnight with another eight or nine people who came in to warm up, eat and then go back out to stay in their cars, camper and, I think, another structure that is nearby.”
This year’s cold season started almost two weeks earlier than last year, which saw its first open night on Dec. 14.
“We’re getting an earlier start this year, but who knows. We’ll probably have another bout of Indian Summer for the next two weeks, and we’ll even wonder why we’re worried about it,” Wood said. “Fingers crossed.”
The number of nights the shelter is open fluctuates from year to year, with 2017 opening for eight nights, compared to 2016, with 22 nights open.
However, the number of people showing up to utilize the shelter is on the rise. In 2017, there were nights when only a handful of people came in.
“Some nights we had three or four people show up, so we ended up putting people in a hotel overnight because it was cheaper than paying for our overnight staff to be there to supervise,” Wood said.
Last year saw a dramatic increase, with the nights averaging 17 people spending the night and between 20 and 25 meals served. While Monday’s numbers weren’t quite as high, it is still early in the season and word of the shelter opening is still spreading.
The cost to run the Florence Cold Weather Shelter can be high, generally $360 a night to pay for overnight staff. As of right now, the program has funds to run a typical winter, but if the early start is a bellwether, more funds may be needed.
“Right now, we assume a typical winter is 12 to 15 nights,” Wood said. “If that’s a typical winter, we’re fine. We’re not hurting or begging yet, but we do like to be prepared. If we were open 22 nights or more, we would be at that point.”
The program received a whole host of donations last year, including a generous donation of socks from the Siuslaw School District’s Kindness Club.
“We are so thankful for the support from last year,” Wood said. “Already some of the support that’s been coming in. The employees at Oregon Pacific Bank have made some generous contributions to us through their casual Friday denim day program. We’re thankful for the support we’ve had. We’ve had offers of people to come in and cook meals and help out with moving the materials around. We have a new laundry person this year. It’s amazing, the support that we have.”
What the program is short on is snacks and clothing.
“This year we would like snack crackers, peanut butter crackers, cheese crackers or granola bars that we can use to supplement the meals that we’re serving,” Wood said. “We also would be happy to receive donations of hats and warm gloves, and we’re always looking for cash donations.”
The shelter, which is located at the Presbyterian Church of the Siuslaw, located at 3996 Highway 101, opens at 5 p.m. with dinner being served at 6.
There is free transportation to the shelter, with pickup locations at the Siuslaw Public Library, 1460 Ninth St.; Fred Meyer, 4701 Highway 101; and near the bus kiosk on the north side of Safeway, 700 Highway 101.
The van, which is white in color and marked with a “Emergency Cold Shelter” designation on it, picks up people between 5 and 6 p.m.