Dec. 25, 2019 — The Florence Emergency Cold Weather Shelter opened its doors on Christmas Day for the first time.
“They care about each other,” shelter board member Brenda Gilmer said about the guests who came to the Presbyterian Church of the Siuslaw on Wednesday and Thursday nights. “Knowing that makes it worthwhile to open the shelter, apart from saving people’s lives.”
Opening on Christmas and getting people inside was difficult for the shelter, as the Cold Weather Shelter’s normal modes of communication were closed for the holiday.
“We usually rely on organizations like SOS, Helping Hands, the library and other groups in town help us get the word out that we will be open,” said Pastor Greg Wood, president of the program. “But none of those groups were open on Christmas Day.”
Because of that, only a handful of people showed up on the holiday.
“My hope is that they found fellow homeless friends and celebrated it together,” Gilmer said.
This year, the shelter opened its doors early so guests who were finishing up dinner at the Florence Elks Lodge’s annual free Christmas dinner could have a place to stay, as almost everywhere else in town had closed.
“In the afternoon, we relaxed while having coffee, cider and snacks,” Gilmer said.
Volunteers provided a host of food, including a birthday cake to celebrate the birth of Christ.
In addition, Gilmer brought a TV antenna so the guest could fill the evening with live sports and warm conversation.
“Everybody stayed for dinner, and most of the evening,” Gilmer said. “It was just a nice, pleasant evening. Quiet, but it was good for the number of people who came in. It was fun for everyone.”
The following night, the crowds tripled as word got out about the shelter being opened.
“I don’t know if it’s the holidays, but it was festive,” Gilmer said. “People just enjoyed each other’s time and we had a wonderful meal.”
The Florence Emergency Cold Weather Shelter opens up when temperatures reach 32 degrees or below, though sometimes opens at higher temperatures when there is inclement weather.
Traditionally, the last few weeks of December marks the opening season for the shelter. However, this year has already seen days open in October, November and December, including the week of Thanksgiving. 2019 marks the first time the shelter was open for both Christmas and Thanksgiving.
“Usually we’re only open three or four nights in December, that’s been the history over the past few years,” Wood said. “Last year we were open on New Year’s Eve, but it looks like we’re warming back up for the next week. It changes daily, but this may be the last time this year we’re open.”
Historically, January sees a smaller number of open nights, while February has the most number of freezing temperatures.
Despite the early openings in 2019, Wood stated the shelter is doing well financially, with “some good support coming in.”
Last week, Oregon Public Bank rose awareness, and funds, for the shelter.
“They had a Santa day where kids came in and took pictures with Santa Claus,” Gilmer said. “They raised over $300.”
Still, the 501(c)3 shelter is always looking for donations, which are tax deductible, as well as volunteers.
“If anyone is interested in volunteer night shifts, or helping out in the morning from 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. to get things squared away, just email me,” Gilmer said.
The shelter is located at the Presbyterian Church of the Siuslaw, located at 3996 Highway 101.