Winter shelters in Forest Grove and Cornelius are open
With a clipboard in hand and the sun about to set, Pacific University student Jennifer Spiering stood outside the doors of Emanuel Lutheran Church, ready to sign people in for a night at the Winter Shelter of Forest Grove and Cornelius.
Although she took names like she would any other night, Spiering signed in volunteers and other community members who were there to participate in a dry run at the shelter on Wednesday, Nov. 13, before it opened to houseless people for the season.
Starting on Nov. 18, the winter shelter will be open Monday and Tuesday nights at the United Church of Christ in Forest Grove and Wednesday and Thursday nights at the Emanuel Lutheran Church in Cornelius.
The shelter has been operating in Forest Grove for several years. This is the second year it will include Cornelius. It serves up to 30 individuals, plus one or two families, per night until the end of March.
Spiering is studying social work at Pacific, and she started volunteering at the shelters and signing people in at the door last year. On cold nights, people lining up to get into the shelter are anxious to get inside, she said.
"Most of the people say, 'Thank you so much for doing this, thank you for feeding me,'" Spiering said.
After giving Spiering a name, volunteers proceeded into the building two at a time, as they would if they were staying the night. Inside, guests were asked to wash their hands and sign a contract with the rules of the shelter.
This year, the winter shelter program has added couple of new services to try to reduce barriers to entry and better serve guests.
The biggest change from previous years is that a mobile shower trailer will be available to guests at both shelter locations each night.
Volunteers with Community Connection started fundraising and designing the mobile shower trailer in January. It can be towed by truck and features two shower stalls. The trailer uses a propane water heater by hooking up to outdoor electricity and plumbing at the shelters. It can also provide eight showers without access to utilities by using a 200-gallon water tank and two 100-gallon waste tanks.
Volunteers Jeff Shapiro and Steve Parr obtained discounted materials from local businesses, as well as donations and grants from organizations and governments such as the city of Forest Grove. They constructed the trailer for about $21,000, which Shapiro said was about half the cost of one that was already constructed.
"We're excited to be able to offer this to the community," Shapiro said.
Shapiro said he and Parr built the trailer after discussing designs with other sheltering services that use mobile showers.
"We asked a lot of questions, 'What do you like? What do you not like?'" Shapiro said.
The shower stalls have an area where people can set their belongings and hang up clothes. They're brightly lit on the inside, and volunteers said they hope to add mirrors and seats in the stalls so people can sit while they get dressed.
Guests will be asked to clean out the shower with a disinfectant after they're done using it.
The trailer was also designed with the shelters in Forest Grove and Cornelius and housing service providers such as the Open Door Counseling Center in mind, Shapiro said. The trailer is raised a few feet off the ground so that waste can be pumped out into sewer systems, for example.
Shapiro said he also asked other mobile shower providers what it has been like serving such as marginalized population and what issues they've experienced.
"We asked, 'Do you ever end up with people defecating in the showers? Let's just ask the tough questions.' And in Vancouver, they've gone a little over a year and I think they've had one incident," Shapiro said. "But everyone was respectful of the shower. And their process was, 'If I have a big line, you gotta take a short shower.'"
Shapiro helped a few regular volunteers set up the trailer at Emanuel Lutheran Church before the dry run last week. They were able to connect to utilities and get the shower running in about 20 minutes. Volunteers should be able to do it quicker once they've done it a few times, Shapiro said.
Back inside the church, while guests read a contract to stay the night, volunteers introduced a new policy that the shelter is trying out this year.
For the first time, guests will be allowed to stay at the shelter with their pets.
Celeste Goulding, sheltering services director, described the change as a pilot policy — in other words, organizers are going to see how it works. It's an effort to accommodate more guests, as many people who are homeless have a pet they don't want to leave on the streets by themselves.
Goulding said she and other volunteers are going to monitor the policy closely, because she's not sure yet whether it will cause problems.
"I'll allow them, unless there's too many," Goulding said of pets at the shelter. "I'm looking for supplies for pets, I'm looking for groomers to donate time, I'm looking for vets to donate time, because we want to become more accommodating to our guests that have pets. We are striving to be fully low-barrier."
As Goulding and the volunteers set up bed mats later in the evening, they discussed how to arrange the mats in a way that could accommodate people with pets. They talked about whether it would be best to have all the guests with pets in one area, or if they should be dispersed to mitigate the risk of problematic dog interactions.
Goulding said she's approaching the pet policy like she did with the shelter's intoxicants policy that was changed last year. Since then, the shelter has allowed intoxicated people to use the shelter unless they clearly couldn't abide by other policies or were disruptive or threatening.
"Something I'm trying to get into people's heads, in general, is trying to move toward a hope-based culture as opposed to a fear-based culture," Goulding said.
She said when people are trusted to abide by the rules, they typically do it. The intoxicants policy worked well last year, and she's hopeful people will responsibly handle other new policies, Goulding said.
"When people think of an intoxicated homeless person, they jump to the most extreme stereotype," she said. "That's not what we're dealing with."
Goulding said she the shelter will continue to look for ways to better serve people. She talks about homelessness as a "humanitarian crisis" created by the lack of affordable housing, and she urges people to volunteer at stopgap services such as the shelter.
"Every night is valuable," she said.
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