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Shelter, which welcomes homeless on freezing nights, opened in November, will run through March.

SUSAN MATHENY/MADRAS PIONEER - From left to right, Dorothy Huffman, Pat Abernathy, and Jim and Cindy Struck prepare dinner for guests at the Jefferson County Winter Shelter. The shelter, which is housed in local churches, is open on evenings when the temperature is 32 degrees or below.
During the numerous cold snaps this winter, the Jefferson County Winter Shelter, in Madras, has been well utilized, according to Dana St. John, who keeps track of its data.

Operated by the Faith-Based Network, in Madras, in co-operation with Madras Gospel Mission and Shepherd's House, in Bend, the shelter is funded by a $20,000 grant from NeighborImpact, which pays for its director and five part-time evening monitors.

Moving from church to church, the Winter Shelter opened in November at the First Baptist Church, and is now at the Free Methodist Church. In March, its last month of operation, it will move to Cornerstone Baptist Church. The doors open on evenings when the temperature is 32 degrees or below.

SUSAN MATHENY/MADRAS PIONEER -  Pat Abernathy, the shelter's director, sets out the plates for the overnight guests.
Homeless people hear about it mostly by word of mouth. In November, there were 44 first-time guests, 22 new guests in December, and 12 in January, for a total of 78 first-time guests.

"I would never have guessed there were 78 people in our community, or passing through, who needed a place to stay," St. John said, noting guests filled out registration forms, which showed they came from Madras, Warm Springs, Crooked River Ranch, Redmond, Culver, Metolius, Texas, Nevada, and The Dalles.

"Maybe five people were passing through. The rest were Jefferson County people," she said.

On Feb. 16, Director Pat Abernathy and helper/monitor Dorothy Huffman welcomed 11 guests and prepared dinner along with Metolius Friends Church volunteers Jim and Cindy Struck. The menu included cheeseburgers, chips, honeydew melon, fruited Jell-O, and coffee.

Food for the meals is provided through donations, so the cooks have to be versatile. "We get things from the Food Network, Oregon Beef, Grocery Outlet, and people buying and dropping food off. We never know what we're going to get, but the community has been really good," said Huffman.

Dinner is served at 6 p.m., and the staff sits down to eat and visit with the shelter guests. Abernathy gives a welcoming hug to several repeat visitors she has come to know. Part of the program is to give homeless people a safe place where they feel welcome.

Two Winter Shelter guests talked about the difference the shelter has made for them.

The mother of two boys ages 11 and 13, who did not want to use her full name, said she was grateful the Winter Shelter was available.

"Me and the boys were homeless for two months, living on the streets. If the shelter wasn't here, we'd be sleeping in a car. It's a blessing for them to do this for us. I found out about the shelter through people and Living Hope, the church I go to," she said.

Guests have to leave the shelter at 7 a.m., and she said her boys are comfortable, Monday through Friday, because they are in school. "I have a car and I kind of live in it during the day, or go to the library just to stay warm. The shelter feeds us breakfast and dinner, and packs the boys a lunch," she said.

"I feel safe here. Just me and the kids have our own special area to stay, and they have men's and women's sides (for sleeping cots). Sometimes they have movies for the kids to watch here, where they can relax and be warm," she said.

The Warming Shelter staff has also referred her to other services. "I'm going through BestCare Supportive Services. They have mental health, alcohol and drug treatment, and are helping get us into housing, hopefully," she said.

Victor Pedroza, a former guest, dropped in to visit the staff, and told how he went from being homeless to getting an apartment and a job, thanks to help from Mark Mattthews and Cindy at BestCare.

"I've been in Madras for three years. I was at the 'Our Community in the Park' event when I heard talk about opening a Winter Shelter. I was homeless at the time and thought, 'That would be really great; is it really going to happen?' and it did," he said.

"It's something Madras needed and needs to keep going. It helps out a lot of people, not just those starting from the bottom. There are divorces and other tragic situations where people end up homeless," he said.

"When I was a homeless individual, it was not safe to sleep outside, not just because of the cold, but other things like violence and people with addictions," Pedroza said.

"On the streets, you don't really sleep, because your guard is always up," agreed staff/monitor Jason Forbey.

"They need to keep this church-based program going, especially for women and kids and families. An adult can live through it, but a kid does not deserve to be out there in this. I'm very thankful for this," Pedroza said.

Without the shelter, he said he would have been living in his car. "Here, we get a meal, breakfast and coffee and a bed to sleep on. We get support; it's not just sleeping. You get hygiene, you get attention; it's like a family," he said.

Getting a good night's sleep, with breakfast and coffee in the morning, gave Pedroza the energy to try to improve his situation. "You can actually start a day and go to DHS and try to get housing and help. Sleeping on the streets is depressing, and lowers your self-esteem. The shelter, it's a boost," he said.

"I got a job and would leave here and go straight to work," Pedroza said, adding, through BestCare he was able to get his own apartment, and has occasionally come back to the shelter as a volunteer.

St. John said the Winter Shelter was open 21 nights in November, 22 in December and January. As of Feb. 14, it had been open 12 nights, served 114 dinners, and filled 133 beds. Of those 133, 97 were men, 20 were women, and nine were children (which is unusual she said).

Abernathy said the shelter has seen several of its clients improve their lives. "Twelve have transitioned into housing, and 12 are working now. Here they are safe and fed, which is helping them make better decisions," she observed.

"The fact that we've had multiple individuals who've done that is pretty unusual. We honestly didn't expect that," St. John agreed.

They have had a few disruptive people. "Pat had to tell them not to come back. But most realize this is a good thing and they don't want to ruin it," St. John said.

Anyone interested in donating food or funds to the Warming Shelter can visit shepherdshouseministries.org, click the "donate" button, and find the Jefferson County Shelter page, or donate through the Faith-Based Network in Madras. To volunteer at the shelter, pick up an application at the Cornerstone Church, where the shelter will be next.

"It's been pretty amazing. We anticipated there would be some rough patches, but it has gone really smoothly," St. John said.

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