The first year of Beaverton's Severe Weather Shelter was considered an overall success at the March 28 Beaverton City Council meeting.
A roundtable discussion at Beaverton City Hall in the council chambers followed a thank-you banquet for the 60 volunteers who put in more than 1,000 hours to ensure the homeless population had shelter and nourishing meals during the exceptionally cold winter. According to countywide Community Connect data, 774 people or families were homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness between mid-2015 and mid-2016.
Attending the discussion were Carol Herron of Just Compassion, a coalition of religious, service, civic and business organizations that have joined together to create a network and to share resources for creating a safe and hospitable environment and a community centered response to the needs of those without homes and those living in poverty in Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood.
"I know we saved some lives this winter," Herron said.
One man who had once utilized the shelter did die during the winter as a result of ongoing illness, Herron added.
Megan Cohen and Marielle McKenna, who were largely responsible for the organization and operations of the Severe Weather Shelter provided insight to city council members Cate Arnold, Mark Fagin and Marc San Soucie during the roundtable.
The shelter was open Thursday nights from Jan. 12 to March 30, as well as any day in which temperatures were expected to stay at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 48 hours. On open days, shelter hours were from 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. Space for 30 adults was available on a first-come, first-served basis.
McKenna said 30 was a good number and on the high side, compared to many other shelters that are typically at capacity in the 20s.
The shelter was housed at the Beaverton Community Center, 12350 S.W. Fifth St. The few hiccups that were reported were some space conflicts with other groups that utilize the facility. There was talk of finding a place for sheltered people to shower.
Herron explained the need to disinfect and sanitize because of disease risks and she said the volunteers were able to accomplish the task well.
The facility provided free temporary shelter for people ages 18 and older who were experiencing homelessness during extreme temperatures. It was the only severe weather shelter within Beaverton city limits. Councilors asked the panel about the possibility of having children at the shelter. The panel agreed that because of safety issues that was not an option at this time, but families were given hotel and taxi vouchers during the freezing weather.
With the Beaverton shelter open, it completes the coordinated county system, which means there is a shelter open in the county every night of the week, according to Thompson.
Dinner and breakfast were provided to those staying at the shelter by Meals on Wheels.
The shelter was operated by the nonprofit organization Just Compassion of East Washington County. A coordinator and volunteer staff assisted with operations including meals and overnight monitoring. For those using the shelter, any weapons or drugs were checked in and secured until the time when they left the shelter.
During the months of operations, police were called out twice in non-emergency capacities to de-escalate situations, which shelter organizers said was a low number and overall, as a result of training and amazing volunteers everything went very smoothly.
The panel included Herron, Coehn and McKenna, along with Holly Thompson, who led the panel.
Establishing the severe weather shelter was identified as a priority in 2016 by Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle and the Beaverton City Council and is listed as an action item in the Beaverton Community Vision. It also fits in with broader city goals to support homelessness, affordable housing and poverty solutions.