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Faith Based Network to build permanent cold weather overnight facility for Madras

 - Richard Snow has experienced several homeless shelters. For the past two years, he has been in Madras, utilizing the Jefferson County Faith Based Network-operated shelters. He has high praise for the local service: "It really felt like being at home," said Snow

A few years back, Richard Snow, 33, grabbed a backpack, stuck out his thumb, and hitchhiked to Maine. He bedded down in a lot of homeless shelters along his journey across the country. The inner-city 300-bunk warehouses were the worst.

"You have to keep your hand on your backpack. You don't leave your shoes next to your bunk because someone might steal them."

The past two years, Snow found comfort in the winter shelter run by the Jefferson County Faith Based Network.

"It really felt like being at home," says Snow. "You feel like people actually care and are looking out for you. Totally different experience from what I've been to."

Each year, when the fall chill sets in, the staff at the Jefferson County Faith Based Network scramble to find a warm place for the county's homeless to sleep and get three meals a day.

"The energy that is spent trying to secure a location, or two locations, to get through a five-month winter season is energy that could be far better utilized," says the agency's director, Tony Mitchell.

Mitchell envisions serving his clients beyond the cold weather.

"I don't want to say goodbye to you on March 15th and I'll see you again on November 1st," says Mitchell. "One day I would like to see you off the streets and in housing and beginning to meet all the various need points in your life."

Mitchell wants to build a permanent shelter to use during the cold months. The city of Madras has agreed to write a grant asking for $1.5 million from the federal Community Development Block Grant Programs.

"Only cities and counties can apply for the block grants," says Jeff Hurd, Madras Public Works director. "And we have the experience and expertise."

The new building would be located somewhere accessible to downtown Madras. The 3,500-square-foot building would include a women's dorm, a men's dorm, bathrooms, showers, a kitchen with pantry and food storage, and a shared living space.

Having a consistent winter shelter, Mitchell says, frees up FBN to provide other services their clients need.

Clients like Richard Snow. After his military service in Afghanistan, Snow suffers from PTSD, with manic and depressive episodes. "It was hard to keep a job for any long time."

Last fall, he was able to secure his disability benefits through Veteran's Administration. He does some day labor. He lives "hand to mouth" as he describes it.

"I always feel because I have a backpack and I'm walking around people instantly see me and think 'junkie' or imagine me the guy holding the sign on the corner," says Snow. "I'm not that. I'm traveling, I look after myself, I pay for my meals, I just don't have anywhere to lay my head at night."

Snow hopes to find a therapist. Mitchell would like to help people like Snow find those services, along with medical and dental, laundry, hair care, foot care, case managers, maybe even a playground for children.

"We are about serving all marginalized, vulnerable populations in Jefferson County," says Mitchell. "This is another vulnerable population that has value and deserves to have attention paid to their needs."

Right now, Hurd and Mitchell are racing to meet the April 30 filing deadline for the grant. Hurd expects to hear by September whether they won the grant. If they win, the shelter won't be ready until winter of 2022, which has FBN looking for another location for this year's shelter.

Even if they don't win this grant, Mitchell will move forward with this plan. "The vision is so embedded in FBN, we're not going to give up driving toward this vision," says Mitchell. "I believe there are resources out there to do this kind of work."

Although a permanent building, the proposed shelter will function as an overnight housing only during the winter season.

Since this year's shelter closed March 15, Snow has been camping on Bureau of Land Management property. He knows cold. He's from North Pole, Alaska, but not this kind of cold.

"Less than a week ago, I was out camping, and it dropped to like 20 degrees and the winds were going like 40 mph gusts and it was just miserable," recalls Snow. "When something like that is coming up, you could open up some place and throw out some cots."

A permanent shelter might provide that flexibility.

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