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Shelters open as deep freeze arrives


A forecast that calls for freezing temperatures has a pair of severe weather shelters in western Washington County opening their doors to people without homes of their own this week.

Starting Monday night, when temperatures began to fall into the 20s and 30s, shelters at the Sonrise Church in Hillsboro and the United Church of Christ in Forest Grove were staffed and open for business.

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 days each winter. Unlike the Forest Grove UCC, which only disallows people who are obviously inebriated or under the influence of drugs, Sonrise screens its guests before admitting them.

Pastor James Gleason said the church works with Washington County and the Hillsboro Police Department to conduct background checks on anyone wishing to use the overnight shelter, which opens at 5:30 p.m. with a hot meal.

“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 ministry.

“We have between 50 and 75 people for the meal and 40 to 45 people overnight,” he 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.”

At the UCC in Forest Grove, weather-watchers can fairly accurately predict when the shelter will be open.

“The trigger for us is if the forecast drops below freezing for more than two nights,” said Pastor Jennifer Yocum, whose church 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, fgucc.org, 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 running — 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, and the church provides blankets, clothes and hygiene supplies.

When packaged foods are available, guests are sent away with lunch, as well. Pets are allowed if they are designated service or companion animals, Yocum added.

Although Yocum said the Washington County Department of Housing Services recommends a guest-to-staff ratio of not more than 18 to 2, 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 noted.

Adding to concerns for people without a home during the winter, the warming shelter at Beaverton’s First Baptist Church closed its doors this fall after five years of operation. Leaders cited safety concerns ranging from fistfights to reports of drug paraphernalia at the Erickson Avenue site.

Its demise left the programs in Hillsboro and Forest Grove as the only severe weather shelters in western Washington County. St. Anthony Catholic Church in Tigard, Rolling Hills Community Church in Tualatin and St. Francis Catholic Church also operate shelters, but on single nights only.