April 6, 2019 — The Florence Emergency Cold Weather Shelter gave its end of the year report this week, detailing the numbers of people they served, giving an overview of the patron demographics and providing an update on two clients that were featured in a Siuslaw News series about the shelter, which was published in February.
“It was a good year,” said Pastor Greg Wood, who is also president of the shelter program. “We did what we were supposed to do. We were open on the coldest nights and we provided good food and a safe place to be. That’s our mission, and that’s what we did.”
The shelter was open a total of 20 nights, a dramatic increase from last season, which only saw eight nights open. This season got off to an early start as well, with the first night opening on Dec. 3, two weeks earlier than 2017. Doors were open for four nights in December, zero nights in January, 12 nights in February and four nights in March.
The Cold Weather Shelter opens when the temperature reaches 32 degrees or less, though it will sometimes open at slightly higher temperatures when rain is expected.
The average number of people who used the shelter decreased compared to last season, with a total of 11 per night served, compared to 17 in the 2017-18 seaon. The shelter served a total of 55 unique people overall, with 19 utilizing the service multiple times.
While Wood was uncertain as to why the decrease occurred, one factor may have been the number of nights the shelter was open in a row.
“It was normal for us to be open several nights in a row,” he said. “It’s kind of a bell curve, almost. The first night it might be 7, then 14, then 20, and then if we were open four nights, it would drop off again. We were open several times just two nights in a row this year. When it’s cold and wet outside, people will come and get rested up for a night or two and decide they can make it outside. Or we have some people who don’t like being in a room with snoring people.”
Ultimately, Wood did not know why the numbers decreased, saying, “It’s an interesting conundrum.”
The demographics were different from last season as well.
“Last year we had many nights with families, and this year we didn’t have any families show up,” Wood said. “We don’t know if that’s because other groups in the city are doing a better job taking care of families, or something else is going on. We don’t know how to interpret that one.”
There were also fewer transients this season, meaning there were less people “just passing through” that used the shelter.
“That was kind of a different experience than we have had in the past,” Wood said. “Most of the people we served this year were people who had been in town for a while. There was more of a ‘life on the street’ feeling this year than we’ve experienced in the past. This may be due to having more of the local homeless population here, where personality conflicts came more to the surface. We had instances with difficult people, which wasn’t very comfortable for us, or for them.”
Wood reported one instance where a patron was asked to leave due to behavior issues, and another that left on their own accord. But overall, he said the shelter ran smoothly due to the volunteers and community assistance.
“We had a wide array of people volunteer to serve the meals, which was exciting. We had really restaurant quality meals all the way around this year,” Wood said. “We are extremely thankful to the community. Financial support, and then also support of socks, hats, coats, gloves, blankets and sleeping bags, which have been donated this past year. We ended up spending a lot more this year than we thought we would, because we were open so many more nights, but we are certainly thankful for the support from the community.”
Finally, Wood reported on two individuals which many Siuslaw News readers were concerned about after being featured in the two-part “Homeless — In Their Own Words” series, which ran in February and can be found online.
Regarding James, who was having a difficult time finding steady work in the community and was living in his car, Wood said, “He told me that he had a job interview and that he was excited. I haven’t seen him in the last two weeks, so my hope is that the last interview he went on resulted in a job.”
Hobbit, who had become homeless in part because of an automobile accident from years ago, was also finding his situation improving.
“He got a settlement from the traffic accident he was involved in,” Wood reported. “Hobbit has moved into a trailer, which should be for him a permanent home. He’s also in the process of collecting disability so he’ll be able to stay in the trailer. So, he’s working on it.”