Warming shelter ends successful first season
As a local pastor and leader of the Jefferson County Faith-Based Network, I am very proud of the communitywide effort to open the first year of the Jefferson County Winter Shelter. The shelter is wrapping up this week.
People of faith and people of goodwill pooled resources to care for vulnerable people. In previous winters, some people experiencing homelessness in our community did not survive the brutal temperatures. I'm thankful to report that the shelter accomplished its first priority — preventing deaths due to exposure.
Consider a few numbers from the data that was collected:
- The shelter was open 111 nights, averaging 11 guests each night.
- 38 nights housed at least one child.
- 105 unique individuals used the shelter at least one night.
- 86 called Jefferson County home, eight were passing through Madras.
- 61 had been homeless for a year or less.
- 36 were women, and four were children.
Our many guests and volunteers experienced something even more meaningful. Friendships and trust were built over the 1,400 meals that were served, and the 1,200 guest stays.
There were songs, stories and games played in the temporary shelters made from local churches opening their doors. The staff diligently set out cots, welcomed guests, served meals, and tended to those with colds and those without adequate clothing.
Each morning, they cleaned up, returning church fellowship halls and classrooms back into spaces to be shared with other events.
In the summer of 2018, the Winter Shelter was still in vision form. As the planning moved forward, there was remarkable cooperation from local leaders, including the Madras Police Department, city and county officials, and local church leaders.
Donors stepped up to raise the nearly $50,000 it took for the pilot season. Funds came from churches, local businesses, individuals, and the Jefferson County Faith-Based Network secured three grants from regional organizations.
There were many questions at the beginning, but as the shelter finishes the winter season, it has been an unmitigated success.
Of course, success is a difficult word to use. The volunteers and staff created a wonderful, warm, safe environment but the data reveals something heartbreaking about Jefferson County. Men, women and children are struggling to make it in our own community. Many of the shelter guests were employed, living in vehicles and unable to find affordable housing.
Addiction and mental health issues plague many of our guests, and the help they need to is more complex than what a winter shelter can provide.
The shelter experience tells us that a seasonal shelter is only one piece in a larger continuum of care for people experiencing homelessness. There are other pieces, and a few of those services are in place.
Madras Gospel Mission, BestCare, and organizations that work on affordable housing have been at this for a while. I am grateful for the progress a local group, under the umbrella of Madras Gospel Mission, is making on a shelter for women and children. But there are still missing links.
Success cannot be marked by the need for homeless services. However, our community can celebrate that we are capable of providing solutions when we partner together.