Tigard shelter offers warm meal and a place to sleep when freezing temperatures hit

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Carol Herron greets people at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Tigard on Monday night. For five years the church has been offering a warming shelter for area homeless when the weather gets cold.It’s biting cold outside on Monday night, and with more than a half-hour to go before the doors open, there is already a line forming outside St. Anthony Catholic Church in Tigard.

The men and women talk quietly amongst themselves. Each carries a sleeping bag or blankets. All are wrapped in thick winter jackets.

Inside the church it’s warm as a handful of volunteers scramble to set up bedding on the floors and brew a pot of coffee before swinging open the doors at exactly 5:30 p.m.

“Come on in, guys,” one volunteer says.

St. Anthony is one of only a handful of severe weather shelters across Washington County. As the temperature drops below freezing this winter, shelters across the county are opening their doors to the homeless to give them a warm meal and a place to sleep.

With nighttime temperatures slipping into the 20s, Tigard’s warming shelter opened its doors last week.

Warming shelters are scattered across the county, offering a safe-haven during inclement weather between November and March.

For more information about warming shelters, and to see schedules for which shelters are open, click here.

St. Anthony is one of the few shelters in the county open nearly every night of the week.

Tualatin’s severe warming shelter at Rolling Hills Community Church is open Wednesday evenings, and Sherwood’s shelter at St. Francis Catholic Church is open Sundays only.

A severe weather shelter at Calvin Presbyterian Church is expected to open on Friday nights starting next month.

Being open nearly every night means St. Anthony’s shelter is often flooded with people hoping to spend a few hours out of the cold.

The church sheltered about 70 homeless men and women last year. Many are regulars, returning again and again each night the shelter was open.

But there are always newcomers, said volunteer Steve Gehring, and with only six beds, the shelter often has to turn people away.

‘No place to go’

People sign in as they enter, and a volunteer does a quick search of bags, looking for pocketknives and other unwelcome items.

Monitors and the group of homeless people spend the evening playing cards or visiting before going to sleep.

The shelter has had as many as 20 turn up looking for a warm place to spend a few hours and enjoy a hot meal.

Those numbers are expected to grow this year, said Carol Herron, after a similar shelter in Beaverton closed its doors this year.

“You start to get to really know these folks,” said Gehring. “I sit down and talk to folks during dinner, and the next thing you know, it’s 8 o’clock, and I’ve been hanging out for a few hours.”

The shelter began five years ago, Herron said, after a homeless man was found frozen to death after a devastating winter storm in 2008.

Herron and others at St. Anthony were appalled that there was no place for the man to go to get out of the cold, she said.

After talking with officials at Tigard’s Good Neighbor Center homeless shelter, Herron was inspired to see what she could do to get people off the street, at least temporarily.

“There is no place for single adults in Tigard to go,” she said. “They challenged us to come up with a solution, and we did.”

‘Nobody can imagine this’

It takes dozens of people to make the shelters work, she explained.

About 150 volunteers help cook meals, make beds, greet people as they come in, put out signs and do laundry in the mornings, Herron said.

But the shelter is always looking for monitors willing to stay the night at the church.

“We can’t open unless we have monitors,” said Jim Lucia, who has volunteered at the shelter since it opened five years ago.

The church works with a local organization to provide laundry and shower services one Sunday a month, and the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry helps organize a weekly dinner to feed about 40 to 45 people.

But Herron said she’d like to do more.

There are talks of moving the shelter to another building on the church’s campus, which would double capacity and give access to a shower.

With the right set of circumstances, anyone could fall into a situation that could lead to them living on the streets, Lucia said.

“That man over there?” Lucia said, gesturing to a man drinking a cup of coffee in the back of the room. “He has a roofer’s pension and Social Security, but they aren’t here yet, he’s only been homeless for a few days.”

Lucia said when people find themselves without a place to go, it happens quickly.

“Nobody can imagine this happening to them,” he said. “You’re just left standing on the street, and then it dawns on you, ‘What am I going to eat?’ You have no money. Where are you going to stay tonight?”

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