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Warming center to open, seeking volunteers

Volunteer training scheduled for Monday, Nov. 23 before center opens on Nov. 29

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - The Community Action Team building serves as the Columbia County Warming Center from Nov. 29 to Feb. 27 on nights when the temperature drops below freezing. The CAT building is located at 125 N. 17th St., St. Helens.The Columbia County Warming Center in St. Helens will begin opening its doors starting Sunday, Nov. 29, when temperatures are anticipated to drop below freezing.

The volunteer-based shelter operates out of the Community Action Team building in St. Helens and is designed to help people who do not have a warm, dry place to sleep at night when the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The center will also be open regularly every Friday night from 6:30 p.m. to 8 a.m., regardless of the temperature, starting Friday, Dec. 4.

Jan Stites, one of the warming center’s volunteer organizers, has been working to help prepare the center before they begin opening doors. She has held two volunteer trainings this month to teach center volunteers about its operations. A third training is planned for Monday, Nov. 23, at 7 p.m. at CAT.

“We hope the community will realize we have homeless people,” Stites said. “And we really appreciate those who help us fill those volunteer spots and really help those people who need our services.”

Stites has also been working to distribute signs to local businesses indicating what nights the center is open. She said she has been targeting stores open late into the evening, where people might hang out to stay indoors, as well as city buildings such as the police department.

This coming winter marks the second year the center has operated out of the CAT building. Stites said volunteers at the warming center shifted the program’s focus last year to better service the needs of people who used the center’s services.

“We’re really excited, [after] having shifted the program pretty dramatically last year, we’re hoping the folks who used the center last year will pass on positive words,” Stites said.

Many donations of towels and blankets have been made to the center already, Stites said. Donations of individually wrapped food products, however, such as oatmeal and granola bars, napkins, coffee, paper goods, cups and other items, are still needed.

Stites said the shelter is the only place in Columbia County that offers shelter to homeless people, and said the need to provide food, warmth and a place to sleep is important to those who may not have permanent homes.

The center also offers meals, laundry facilities and access to showers.

“With Oregon’s weather especially, people who spend a lot of time outdoors with the wet,” Stites said. “When they are wet and cold, they’re much more vulnerable to not surviving a winter.”

For more information about the Columbia County Warming Center, or to volunteer, call 971-225-0227.

Other ways to help:

While the warming center offers a dry place for people to sleep at night, other efforts have also been organized in Columbia County to offer assistance to the homeless.

Scappoose resident Billie Haberman and her daughter, Khirali Haberman, 13, have organized a Facebook group to collect personal care items that can be stuffed into purses, cinch-sacks and backpacks to distribute to those in need in Columbia County.

The goal of the collection is to gather items like soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other personal care items, such as gloves and socks, that can be easily placed into bags and handed out. Haberman hopes to work with the warming center and others to distribute bags of supplies in December.

For more information about what to donate or how to volunteer, contact Haberman on her Facebook page, “Helping the Homeless of Columbia County Oregon.”