Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites


Warming center opens doors to homeless

A long-discussed warming center for Columbia County’s homeless population is getting ready to launch a two-week trial run.

The Columbia County Warming Center will open its doors at Plymouth Presbyterian Church in St. Helens beginning Jan. 27 and ending Feb. 13 with a plan to welcome up to 20 individuals during what are traditionally the coldest two weeks of winter.

“I’m finally letting myself be excited about it,” said one of the organizers, Jan Stites, who is also a member of the Plymouth Presbyterian Church. “I feel confident we can do it.”

The center, located in the fellowship hall of the church, will provide a warm space, bedding, access to bathrooms, hot beverages and snacks.

The two-week pilot program comes after two months of intense planning and preparation. What began with a handful of people interested in addressing challenges facing the homeless in Columbia County has turned into an organized group with 76 names on its volunteer contact list. Of these volunteers, 40 have gone through training and background checks and more will participate in training sessions over the next few days before the center opens.

While there are still some details to work out — a miscommunication about available blankets, for instance — they have amassed supplies, snacks and bedding.

The center does not yet have a board or a permanent location, but those will come later if the pilot program is successful. The group hopes to establish a year-round center in the future.

“We’re just the grass roots community group right now,” Stites said.

Among their number, they count members of local churches, organizers from the Community Action Team, Community Meals (operated out of the Lutheran and Sunset Churches), the Women’s Resource Center and others.

The Columbia County Warming Center is currently the only such center in Columbia County.

The group has tried to address concerns about liability and has ensured the pilot program will fall under the Plymouth church’s insurance. Organizers said the church congregation seems generally pleased about the service the church will provide, but is glad it will not be a long-term thing right away.

With the two-week pilot program, “everybody in the community will hear how it went,” Stites said. “What we did well. What we will change.”