Center coordinator Leota Childress is expecting to be open more nights this season due to additional temperature requirements factoring in wind chill

PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - The former Police Activities League building in Molalla, located at 209 Kennel Avenue, will again serve as the warming center this winter season. With colder temperatures looming in the near future, individuals experiencing houselessness in the Molalla area will need a warm place to sleep at night.

The Molalla Warming Center will be able to help 32 of those people on freezing nights as the center was recently approved to operate at the same building as last year, the former Police Activities League facility located at 209 Kennel Avenue. Molalla Warming Center coordinator Leota Childress said the City of Molalla had not converted the building to a planned use and "generously made it available to use for this season."

The center will be open from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. on nights that are projected to reach 33 degrees Fahrenheit or lower by the National Weather Service. Each day's opening will be announced on the center's Facebook page by around 1 p.m.

This week, the NWS is forecasting low temperatures of 29 degrees on Wednesday and Thursday night as the clouds will part for the week, allowing the cold to come in and stay once the sun has gone down.

An addition to the temperature requirements has been made by Clackamas County, who contracts out to different municipal groups to run the warming centers. Beginning this winter, the projected wind chill will be taken into account as well, which Childress said she likes "because it determines what an individual out in the elements is truly dealing with." A strong wind chill can easily make temperatures feel much colder than the numbers on thermometers read.

Last year, the Molalla Warming Center was open for 35 nights and provided 134 beds. Childress said with the wind chill factored in this year, they're expecting to be open more nights than before.

A report published by Clackamas County's Health, Housing and Human Services department shows that a count of 1,068 homeless people reside in the county, in addition to 1,165 children that were counted separately by the Homeless School Liaisons throughout the county.

Of those 1,068 counted on the night of Jan. 23, 2017, 1,025 later provided a geographic location within the county where they were living at the time of the count. Molalla was third on the list of locations, with 153 individuals saying they resided in the city.

Childress said it takes a minimum of six volunteers to operate the warming center for the night. Each shift has two volunteers that work three separate shifts: from 5:30 p.m. to 11:15 p.m.; 11 p.m. to 4:15 a.m.; and 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. She said it takes additional volunteers to bring in a hot meal of soup of a casserole and bread, as the center provides its guests with hot beverages, milk, and juice. In the mornings, guests are served drinks again and are sent off with a breakfast bar and a banana.

Childress said their needs are for people to donate their time rather than goods like blankets and gloves. She said a shift at the center is easy, and that all it takes is "a willing heart, a kind spirit, and the ability to stay alert in the middle of the night."

"We always need volunteers," Childress said. "The more volunteers we have, the lighter the load. Our volunteer staff was stretched think last year when we were open 14 nights in a 16-night span."

Last year, the local community came together and donated 125 pairs of socks in two days to the Molalla Warming Center after a campaign was started on social media, and saw similar results with a drive for cookies and gloves. Childress said when the season was coming to a close, they kept a supply of socks and gloves, and gave the rest to other homeless outreaches. She said they don't keep clothing on hand and, in general, refer donors to the Foothills Resource Center, where people can go to donate and receive clothes.

Childress said the center provides on-the-job training with an experienced volunteer, so there's no need to attend a meeting or training prior to volunteering; simply show up at the center and give your time.

Clackamas County has declared a six-month state of emergency concerning homelessness and the need for shelter beds, and to make things worse, the Clackamas County Service Center experienced a fire in July 2017, making them unable to operate out of their facility located in the 8000 block of SE 80th Avenue in Portland. Childress said last year, when the other centers in the county reached capacity, individuals were bussed to Molalla.

"That worked very well until the roads iced over and it was no longer safe to transport," Childress said. "The County is still working to resolve the issue of [a] lack of beds and may bus people out [to Molalla] unless the roads are impassable."

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Conner Williams
Sports Reporter/News Contributor
503-829-2301 ext. 341
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