An ongoing cold snap has driven a surge in people seeking shelter at night in Ashland and prompted the city to open Pioneer Hall on Saturday for an emergency night, but organizers said they need more volunteers to facilitate the shelter.
With overnight temperature dropping to the 20s since Sunday, the Ashland winter shelter organizers have seen a spike in people in need of a warm place to sleep, as those who usually stay in their cars can’t stand the cold, organizer Heidi Parker said.
“We have an increasing number at all of our shelter locations,” Parker said. “And we have to turn people away because of (a lack of) capacity.”
The churches which host the shelter two nights a week can host between 50 to 55 people, but at Pioneer Hall, were the shelter is open four nights a week, that number drops to 43 people a night. Saturdays are the only uncovered nights, Parker said.
Parker also said she has seen an overall increase in women, children and disabled elders seeking shelter this year.
“I am most concerned and worried for them,” Parker said. “Whether they are physically or mentally disabled, they couldn’t look after themselves.”
As temperature is expected to continue to stay low over the weekend, the city of Ashland has agreed to open Pioneer Hall on Saturday — the only uncovered night — as an emergency shelter for the homeless population.
“The temperature is right at the border there, and because Pioneer Hall was available that night, we decided to open the shelter this Saturday too,” Interim City Administrator John Karns said. The emergency shelter usually opens when the forecast calls for temperatures at or below 20 degrees.
Per the contract with the city, shelter organizers have to have at least two hosts stay overnight. But with the shelters operating at capacity every night and an increase in those with special needs, Parker said the shelter needs more hosts.
“There are many jobs people could volunteer to do, but right now we need hosts,” she said. “The nights we need most help are nights at Pioneer Hall.”
The shelter alternate locations depending on the days of the week. The shelter is at Pioneer Hall on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; at First Presbyterian Church on Monday; and at Trinity Episcopal Church on Wednesday.
New volunteer hosts go through a background check conducted by Ashland Police and a training session before being paired with an experienced host, Parker said.
Parker also said because the shelter in Ashland is one of the few shelters in Southern Oregon that would let anybody in, it’s often the choice for many in the homeless population from out of town.
Pioneer Hall is still being assessed for a potential renovation after the city discovered the building couldn’t handle more than six inches of snow or three inches of ice on the roof. Karns said the city doesn’t have concerns about the weather forecast for this weekend.
The winter shelter will continue until April, Parker said, and organizers are still in search of a permanent location for the shelter in the long run.
Parker said interested volunteer should contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up background checks and conduct training sessions.
— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or email@example.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.