Out of the cold:Volunteers open warming center for homeless in Silverton

January 2017 Posted in Community, People

By Kristine Thomas

Weather forecasts predicting below freezing temperatures for a week sparked a conversation on Saturday. Further discussions took place Sunday. A meeting and a request for assistance took place on Monday. By Tuesday, a warming shelter opened for homeless people in Silverton.

“It’s been a scrabble to pull it together but we did it because the need is there,” Sarah White said.

Determined and spurred by an obligation to serve the homeless, Silverton residents Jaime Fuhrman, Sarah White, Jennifer Ohren and Anne Haviland opened a warming shelter Dec. 13 to 18 at Oak Street Church. There they and other volunteers helped 16 people.

“Some of these people dropped in to warm up and eat, socialize and pick up resources. Then returned outside for the remainder of the night,” Ohren said. They also helped a family in crisis go to an emergency shelter in Salem.

While the group led the effort, they aren’t willing to take all the credit.

“I believe this happened because the community has the will to do something to help the homeless population who have become more visible in our community,” White said. By creating Silverton Warming Center Network on Facebook, the women were able to garner community support. Community members responded by bringing meals, sleeping bags and mats, food gift cards, warm clothing, coats, hats and gloves, and more.

“We are responding to the needs of the homeless one day at a time,” White said. “This is a need that is not going away. We know many of the individuals by name and we worry about them, that’s why we wanted to help.”

Ohren worked for St. Joseph’s Shelter in Mount Angel and White for Silverton Area Community Aid. They both have knowledge about why people are homeless and what can be done to assist them move from the street to permanent housing.

“Our goal is to create a framework of support to the homeless and the at-risk through relationship building and trust with the main objective to get people into affordable long-term housing,” Ohren said. “We acknowledge the intrinsic value of every person and believe in the essential human right to be treated with dignity and respect.” 

The women are grateful to Oak Street Church members, Pastor Breck Wilson and Assistant Pastor John Freidrich for their hospitality.

“We appreciate that you have shown a confidence in us to carry out our Lord and Savior’s work, acting as God’s agent by trusting your facility to us,” Ohren said. “Thank you Silverton PD for checking in with us regularly. We appreciate your presence.”

Center requests
The Silverton Warming Center volunteers hope to be ready to respond quickly and get the warming shelter opened for the next cold snap. Their biggests needs are hosting facilities, such as churches, and overnight volunteers.
Items needed include thick sleeping pads/mats, low temperature sleeping bags, gloves, hats, hand warmers, gift cards of small increments ($5) to food places such as McDonald’s; lightweight blankets; tarps and dog food. For information, email silvertonwarming@gmail.com

Silverton Area Community Aid Executive Director Teresa Warriner said the combination of the drop in temperature and people noticing the increase of homeless people in Silverton prompted people to open a warming shelter. 

“We live in a loving and supportive community that rallies to take care of each other,” Warriner said. 

In November, SACA served 15 homeless clients. People are homeless, she said, because they lack skills for certain jobs; have mental health, drug or alcohol issues or lack the resources for affordable housing. 

While the reasons vary, the need to serve the homeless regardless of the weather.

Ohren and White have ongoing conversations about the need for a permanent facility where homeless people can visit during the day to access services such as laundry, meals and case management. The facility could also be used as an emergency shelter space when the weather drops below freezing.

The women are working with Silverton Police Chief Jeff Fossholm and Silverton City Manager Bob Willoughby to communicate what’s happening with the shelter. The city estimates there are about 10 homeless people living in Silverton. If the boundary of the Silver Falls School District is used that number climbs to more than 50 people.

Willoughby expressed his thanks to the volunteers, the Oak Street Church and other groups who pitched in to open the warming shelter on a short notice.

“Silverton is a very compassionate and caring community, he said. “We do things here that wouldn’t be possible in other towns our size.”

Both Willoughby and Fossholm said the group has challenges ahead to meet the criteria to operate a warming shelter. Because White worked for SACA and Ohren for St. Joseph’s Shelter, Fossholm said they have experience working with the homeless.

“They have plans to be a 501-c 3 organization, but that takes time and a lot of hurdles to work through,” Fossholm said. “Until they get that status, getting gifts or raising additional funding will be difficult.” Fossholm is not sure if the community can support a year-round shelter, or if they will be able to fund a permanent location.

Fossholm said Silverton officers are willing to give citizens in need a ride to a warming or homeless shelter in Salem if requested, such the Salvation Army or United Gospel Mission.

“In most instances, the tried-and-true homeless individuals does not want assistance, for numerous reasons which include mental health, substance abuse,” Fossholm said. “For them to participate in the programs they are required to follow the rules, which they do not want to follow so they chose the streets.”

Willoughby and Mayor Rick Lewis said this is not the first time the community has responded to help homeless individuals.

“Over the years, several churches have offered space, sometimes during the day. The senior center and the library have been offered as a daytime shelter in the past,” Willoughby said. 

“Silverton has a history and a culture for stepping up to help in time of need,” Lewis said. “It is part of what defines us as a community.”

In addition to illuminating the decency and the kindness of the individuals served, White said the experience has illuminated the compassion and generosity of the community. The volunteers have been inspired by the community’s kindness, including a woman who brought a check and kind words at midnight and McDonald’s gift cards for the guests. A local eatery offered its space for shelter after hours and to provide free meals to homeless people during the day.

“When we’ve needed specific items, neighbors have knocked on the church door within the hour to drop them off,” White said. The organizers are grateful for the leadership at Oak Street Church.

“We approached them about hosting the shelter and it was evident that they recognized and were sensitive to the specific needs of the unhoused. Their generosity and hospitality relieved organizers of the stress of scrambling to find a host facility each day,” White said.

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