In the community, Local government

Cold temps prompt officials to open Ontario warming shelter – volunteers needed

NOTE: We are making this story available free to everyone as a community service of the Enterprise. Please share with others.

UPDATE 4:18 p.m.: Rides are now available for those needing to use the shelter at the Malheur County Fairgrounds. Officials say they appreciate, but can’t accept, donations of food and other goods at this time. To schedule a free ride to the warming shelter call 877-875-4657. Free rides are also provided courtesy of the Oregon Department of Emergency Management by calling 1-866-698-6155 or dial 711.

ONTARIO – Malheur County plans to open a 24-hour warming shelter for the homeless on Saturday and officials have put out the call for volunteers.

The shelter, being set up because of anticipated subfreezing weather, will operate 24 hours a day beginning Saturday, Jan. 13, at Girvin Hall on the Malheur County Fairgrounds. The shelter will open at noon.

The effort is spearheaded by Malheur County Emergency Services and the Red Cross.

Lt. Rich Harriman, Malheur County Emergency Services director, said help is needed for three shifts of eight hours each day until Friday, Jan. 19, when the shelter will close. Those who wish to volunteer to help can contact Tristin Wishard, at 541-212-1273 or 541-823-3230.

“We need one person or two per shift. They will just be there as a resource. We have security lined up so they won’t be breaking up fights or anything like that. They’ll be cleaning up, managing lists for showers and things like that. There might be some food preparation and certainly clean up afterward,” said Harriman.

Harriman said the hours for volunteers are flexible.

“If someone calls and says, I can do four hours here or there, we can work that out,” said Harriman.

Harriman has reached out to public transportation services such as Snake River Transit to see if “they will make allowances for the homeless” to transport them to the shelter. Harriman said he is still coordinating the transportation piece.

Harriman has also asked local police to “put the word out to the homeless population that we are putting a warming shelter together through the coldest days and nights.”

A cold front predicted within the next few days to deliver temperatures in the teens and close to zero prompted the move to open the shelter, said Harriman.

“It will be just too darn cold for people who live outside,” said Harriman.

Harriman said the idea for the shelter was developed during a meeting of the county’s Local Emergency Planning Committee, on Thursday, Jan. 11. The committee includes city managers, emergency service providers, the Malheur County Health Department and other health care organizations.

Harriman said sleeping supplies, such as cots and bedding, will be supplied by the American Red Cross. He said there are about 50 cots available. Tables and chairs will also be set up.

He said the Red Cross and the state will provide more cots and sleeping supplies if needed.

“It will be open all night long. People can hang out and sit around tables and drink coffee. There are also a couple of showers available, but we will probably have to schedule them,” he said.

He said dogs and cats are allowed “As long as they stay with their owners and are penned up.”

Harriman said there will also be space available at the shelter for local community nonprofits, such as Community in Action, to offer services.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE – The Malheur Enterprise delivers quality local journalism – fair and accurate. You can read it any hour, any day with a digital subscription. Read it on your phone, your Tablet, your home computer. Click subscribe – $7.50 a month.