Almost 200 people looking for shelter from the cold had showed up at the Egan Warming Centers by about 9 p.m. on a Monday, the first time the shelters were opened this season.
EUGENE — Almost 200 people looking for shelter from the cold had showed up at the Egan Warming Centers by about 9 p.m. on a Monday, the first time the shelters were opened this season.
The warming center program was founded in late 2008 after Maj. Thomas Egan, a homeless veteran, froze to death in Eugene's Whiteaker district. The program pledged that, any time between Nov. 15 and March 31 when the temperature falls below 28 degrees, local homeless people would have somewhere warm to stay.
Four warming centers were opened Nov. 22 — at the First Christian Church, the Valley Covenant Church, the Dayspring Fellowship and Hosea Youth Services. The warming centers, which can house an average of 50 people, offer a dry bed, blankets and sleeping bags and an evening meal to anyone who wants or needs them.
Among the people seeking shelter at the First Christian Church were Lawrence Kinney and Cynthia Moran. Originally from Utah, they've been homeless since 2009 when a fire destroyed their motor home and their insurance company turned down their claim, they said.
For the past three weeks, they said, they've been sleeping in their car while Kinney, a Vietnam veteran, waits for his Section 8 Veterans Housing Voucher to come through. And Kinney estimates that that's two long, cold months away.
"I'm tired of the car and getting busted by the police," Moran said. "It's nice to sleep indoors."
"Good sandwich, good coffee," Kinney added. "It's good to see how people treat people here."
Tom Revis, another First Christian guest, said he lost everything, including a $750,000 home in Daly City, Calif., in the financial crash of 2008.
He came to Eugene about a month ago from San Francisco after hearing of the area's good reputation for helping homeless people, he said.
"I slept at the mission last night," he said. "But I've been sleeping in the park sometimes. That's pretty rough."
The warming centers program is still "working the bugs out of the system" as organizers attempt to make their services as easily accessible as possible, said Charley Harvey, assistant executive director at St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County.
But he added that he has been delighted by the response of the community: More than 350 volunteers have signed up and completed the required training and orientation seminar.
St. Vincent de Paul is coordinating the program, which is supported by 27 other agencies. The majority of the funding comes from a $30,000 Lane County grant, but some money has been raised through donations.
"There was such a big public outcry after Tom Egan's death," Harvey said. "Everyone said, 'We can't have people dying on our streets.' That brought everyone together, working towards a common goal."
"It's really the coolest coalition," Shannon Kearney, a volunteer for the program since 2008, added. "I've been to a lot of (organizational) meetings and everyone sees eye to eye, even though there are different groups of very diverse people involved. It's made me proud of our community."
Last year, the warming centers were open for 11 separate nights during the months of November and December, drawing up to 230 people.
Although organizers and volunteers, who have been trying to get the word out that the shelters were open, expected a slower night Nov. 22, a total of 186 people showed up.
One of the shelter volunteers, Jim Wood, had a simple answer for why he was there, doing kitchen duty.
"There's a need, I got the time, so why not?" said Wood, a carnival worker currently in his off season. "I think I would struggle to help even one person by myself, but this program provides me with a framework to easily help lots and lots of people."
"It's easy to take part because the people are so grateful," Kearney said. "They don't want to be on the street, they're just happy to have somewhere warm and dry to sleep."