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Homeless find shelter in Tualatin

Tualatin United Methodist Church opens its doors as severe-weather shelter
by: Jennifer Clampet, FINDING SHELTER — (From left) Homeless man Kim Dan and his friend who refused to give his name sit at a table in the Tualatin United Methodist Church. The church opened its doors Jan. 18 at 8 p.m. as the first severe-weather shelter in Tualatin.

TUALATIN - Tualatin's faith-based community, which has struggled to find an appropriate method to house the homeless during inclement weather, came together last week in a hurry.

Six homeless people found shelter in Tualatin last Friday. As temperatures dipped below freezing, the Tualatin United Methodist Church opened its doors as the city's first severe-weather shelter. Members of the Rolling Hills Community Church on Borland Road volunteered to operate the temporary shelter.

The shelter stayed opened for three nights. And this weekend should the temperatures continue to stay below freezing, the Tualatin United Methodist Church plans to open its doors again with members from neighboring churches volunteering to run the shelter, said Linda Moholt.

Washington County's severe-weather plan calls on faith-based communities in each city to formalize some way to provide shelter for the homeless this winter. While the county has a few affordable-housing and shelter options for homeless families, single homeless men are often turned away and only a small number of beds are reserved for single homeless women.

A homeless count in January 2007 found that Washington County has at least 1,261 homeless people of which about 14 percent are said to be singles.

In December, members of the county's faith-based community began discussions on severe-weather shelters. Questions of liability, fear of the homeless and the logistics of finding an open facility made finalizing shelter plans difficult.

But last weekend, at least five churches in Washington County opened their doors to the homeless, including Calvin Presbyterian Church in Tigard, which also has plans to open again every Friday through the month of March.

Calvin Presbyterian had two people stay at its shelter Jan. 18.

But whether it was two or 22 people, 'the church will continue to do the shelter,' said Pastor Robert Garwig.

With homeless people camping out on property less than a mile from the church, Garwig said the situation for the homeless was something the church can't and won't ignore.

On Friday, Jan. 18, a 42-year-old homeless woman, her boyfriend and her 7-year-old son had nowhere else to go. The woman had dialed 2-1-1 in Multnomah County and was told that every shelter in the Portland area was full, except for one.

The family of three from Gresham boarded the MAX and took a bus to Tualatin. From the bus stop, the trio rode two bikes up to the Tualatin United Methodist Church. The son held a flashing light on his father's handlebars as the dad struggled to make his way up the driveway.

The family ate bowls of stew in the church as the mother bragged about her son's reading abilities - a first-grader reading at a third grade level.

'I read to him every night when he was a baby,' she said. When asked if she was scared to be homeless, she replied, 'We don't have to be on the streets.' She motioned toward her son's father and said they were there for him so he wouldn't be alone.

They could find places to stay, she said of herself and her son, 'but Russ would have nowhere to go.'