Forest Grove, Hillsboro programs give homeless respite from cold

With temperatures plunging, the loss of Washington County’s only eastside severe-weather shelter could send more homeless customers west to Forest Grove and Hillsboro, where the county’s last two remaining severe-weather shelters are located.

“The homeless from Beaverton may seek out resources in these communities” now that the warming shelter at Beaverton First Baptist Church has shut its doors, said Annette Evans, homeless program coordinator for the county’s housing services department.

In addition to the severe-weather shelter at the Forest Grove United Church of Christ, homeless people in Forest Grove can enjoy a free community meal every Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. at Sonrise Church. And Sonrise Pastor Rudy Tinoco said leaders at the Forest Grove campus are considering opening their own overnight shelter sometime down the road.

Monday, both the Forest Grove UCC and Sonrise Church in Hillsboro opened their severe-weather shelters.

“The trigger for us is if the forecast drops below freezing for more than two nights,” said Pastor Jennifer Yocum of the UCC, which has operated its severe-weather shelter for six years. “Generally speaking, if there is a hard frost on your car windows in the morning, our shelter has been open to provide a safe, warm place to sleep that night.”

Notice of the shelter’s activation is posted on the church website,, and on the office phone, 503-357-9121.

The UCC shelter — which is staffed by Pacific University students and buoyed by volunteers who donate food and cash to keep it going — typically runs from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. at 2032 College Way. Guests receive dinner when they arrive in the evening and breakfast before they leave in the morning. In addition, the church provides blankets, clothes, hygiene supplies and sometimes lunch, when packable foods are available. Pets are allowed if they are designated service or companion animals.

The Washington County Department of Housing Services recommends a guest-to-staff ratio of not more than 18 to 2, Yocum said. But the highest number of folks using the UCC’s shelter on a single night last winter was 14. The year before had a one-night high count of 26.

“Our experience is it gets really crazy to try to manage numbers higher than that,” Yocum said.

Hillsboro’s Sonrise, located at 6701 N.E. Campus Way, welcomes men, women and children to its Shelter at Orenco Station (S.O.S.) for 90 straight days each winter.

While the Forest Grove UCC turns away people who are obviously inebriated or under the influence of drugs, Sonrise conducts a more in-depth screening process. Pastor James Gleason said Sonrise works with Washington County and the Hillsboro Police Department to conduct background checks on all potential guests at the shelter.

Sketchy customers were one of the reasons Beaverton First Baptist closed its shelter this fall after five years of operation. Leaders cited safety concerns ranging from fist fights to reports of drug paraphernalia.

“For safety’s sake we use an intake system,” said Gleason, who added that S.O.S. is not a “drop-in” program and that it serves men, women and couples without children during the coldest months of the winter. About two dozen churches partner with Sonrise to provide supplies, volunteers and financial assistance to the shelter, which opens at 5:30 p.m. with a hot meal.

“We have between 50 and 75 people for the meal and 40 to 45 people overnight,” Gleason said. “We house people in classrooms — men bunk in with men, women with women, and couples together.”

Since S.O.S. debuted in 2005, “we’ve been fully staffed and filled up every season,” said Gleason. Guests are also invited to peruse the church’s food and clothes closets and can make use of mats, sleeping bags and hygiene supplies while there.

“One of our joys every year is that we see people reconnect with family and find jobs and a renewed purpose,” said Gleason, “but our main objective is to provide homeless people with a place to stay when it’s cold outside.”

The church’s phone number is 503-640-2449, and its website is

St. Anthony Catholic Church in Tigard, Rolling Hills Community Church in Tualatin and St. Francis Catholic Church in Sherwood operate overnight shelters one night each week.

Additionally, Evans said, SafePlace Youth Shelter in Hillsboro provides emergency shelter services to runaway and homeless youth ages 12 to 19.

Another shelter program, Family Promise, is run mainly by church volunteers and hosts families year-round by rotating to a different church — and a different set of volunteers — each week.

In a bit of bad timing, the Forest Grove UCC was scheduled to host Family Promise this week, just as freezing temperatures called for its severe-weather shelter to open, said Loren Waltz, who coordinates the Family Promise program for his congregation.

The Family Promise folks had to move to Forest Grove’s First Christian Church.

With the kitchen and fellowship hall busy with severe-weather shelter guests, Yocum said, “It’s not compatible to host both programs at one time.”

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