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Cold temps drive homeless to seek shelter

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Columbia County Warming Center continues to help those in need on frigid nights


SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Jan Stites, lead volunteer at the Columbia County Warming Center, folds donated items before putting them into a storage closet. The center is open every Friday and nights when the temperature drops below freezing.With overnight lows dropping to the upper teens and low 20s this week, some of the most vulnerable people are the homeless.

Frigid temperatures can drive many to seek temporary shelter at places like the Columbia County Warming Center.

Jan Stites, the center's lead volunteer, said the number of residents has not necessarily dramatically risen or dropped, but added many new faces have been trickling in. That's a sign some people who are homeless, who have "been toughing it out," are seeking help.

"We've had some people just sort of tougher, heartier, ready to stay out there, ready to stay out there and protect their possessions and their stuff, and they're coming in now," Stites said.

In December, the center was open for 21 days. In that time it served 31 people, five of whom were minors. As of Wednesday morning, Jan. 4, Stites reported that 23 people have been served in January alone. Last year, a total 40 people came to the center throughout the season.

On an average night the center gets between seven and nine guests. When two different snow events hit Columbia County in mid-December, shutting down roadways, closing county and city buildings, and canceling school functions, Stites saw those numbers more than double, a fact she attributes to more challenging travel conditions.

The overall status of homelessness in the county can't be ascertained so easily from the warming center's numbers alone, however. In her experience, Stites said some families will seek shelter with friends and relatives when temps drop to dangerous levels. Others will check in, shower, wash their laundry, eat dinner and then leave to make other sleeping arrangements. This year, Stites has seen more guests with service animals as well. When there is conflict between animals, their owners frequently leave after a short visit to keep things peaceful, she said.

The National Weather Service predicts overnight temperatures in the low 20s and 30s to continue until Saturday, Jan. 7. Stites said the center will likely be closed for a few days starting Sunday, Jan. 8, but as the weather fluctuates, doors will likely be reopened by the middle of next week.

to volunteer

About the Center

The Warming Center is open from 6:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. every Friday night and when the temperature

is below 32 degrees. Orange signs displayed in windows throughout St. Helens identify other nights when the center is open. The center is located at 125 N. 17th St. in the Community Action Team

building.

To volunteer or for more information, contact the center at 971-225-0227 or email

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