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City, county, state join forces to strike the deal for Jefferson County Faith-Based Network to use vacant building

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER 
 - Tony Mitchell, executive director of the Jefferson County Faith Based Network, says this building at the South Madras Gateway solves a need for the winter. "We want to show Christian compassion and keep people safe and well during the cold weather."

An abandoned building at the South Madras Gateway will soon become the winter warming shelter for Madras's homeless people.

"We started this season not knowing where the shelter would be this year," says Tony Mitchell, the new executive director of the Jefferson County Faith-Based Network. This new deal resolves that uncertainty.

"It was a real scramble finding a shelter." Mitchell started in this position on Sept. 1. He says COVID made many churches hesitant to provide space. The Cornerstone Baptist Church offered its annex as a shelter. In mid-November the church committed to one month, which has grown to six weeks, and may soon become two months.

Cornerstone has been generous, says Mitchell, "but I want to stay true to my word and not extend our stay beyond what we agreed to."

If everything goes according to plan, after about $5,000 of repairs and improvements, Mitchell expects to open the new building the first or second week of January.

Madras City Administrator Gus Burril lit the fire to move the deal along. "We don't want people to stay out in the cold any longer." Burril says negotiations for the building began in the fall but somehow got bogged down.

The Oregon Department of Transportation sold the building to Jefferson County, who agreed to lease it to the City of Madras, who agreed to lease it to the Faith-Based Network to use as a shelter.

The sticking point seemed to be in Salem. Burril called his connection at ODOT, David Brown, who, although he wasn't actually working, gave up his leisure time to make a few calls and get the deal approved before the year's end.

"I think without David's help this wouldn't have happened," says Burril, or wouldn't have happened as quickly.

The South Y location will house the same number of people, but is an improvement in many ways. "This is safer because there are sidewalks to the building," says Mitchell, referring to two pedestrians struck in 2020, one killed, while walking in the dark to the warming shelter.

The new building has four rooms which will allow staff to more easily separate men from women and give space for staff to have a private area. Mitchell says they haven't seen children at the shelter so far this year, but the new space will allow them to more easily accommodate children if they need to.

Currently the organization hosts 10-14 people a night. The shelter opens at 6 p.m. and closes at 7 a.m. Clients get dinner, breakfast and a sack lunch. The network provides clothing, water and vouchers for showers.

The winter shelter closes on March 15. Jefferson County is soliciting plans to develop the property at the South Madras Gateway, so the Faith-Based Network will be looking for alternatives for next year's winter shelter.

Mitchell would like to establish a stable location they can use every winter, so they can concentrate their efforts on other services like health care, mental health and employment.

"We want to move the needle on the lives of the unhoused in the community."

Burril says the shelter has community support because the shelter, in turn, supports the community. He says he's especially inspired by the shelter director, Pat Abernathy. "She partners with businesses to care for the community. She's helping people, feeding them, hydrating them. It's good for the community. It shows that we care for one another."


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