In the community, Local government

Despite minor challenges, county warming shelter effort proves successful

ONTARIO – More than 140 unhoused individuals used the temporary warming shelter at the Malheur County Fairgrounds between Jan. 13 and Jan. 19.

Those individuals were supported by 76 volunteers in an operation that proved to be a success, said Lt. Rich Harriman, Malheur County Emergency Services director.

The county established the 24-hour warming shelter as a cold front rolled over the county and dropped temperatures into the teens and single digits.

The warming shelter at Girvin Hall included cots and blankets and served hot meals.

“It went really well. It was the first of its kind. We had a good group that stayed with us all week long,” said Harriman.

The shelter was a coordinated between the county, the Red Cross and the Oregon Department of Health and Human Services Office of Resiliency and Emergency Management.

The state paid for the three meals served each day at the shelter.

“We served 950 meals throughout the course of the week,” said Harriman.

Harriman said the highest number of people – 39 – stayed the night of Jan. 18.

He said local organizations helped at the shelter throughout the week.

“Valley Family Health brought their mobile clinic twice and served seven different patients. Lifeways was out quite a bit and Community in Action was there,” said Harriman.

He said the state also was able to sign people up for SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – during the week.

Harriman said officials did learn a few lessons.

“We don’t have a list or a group or a team we can pull together in a moment’s notice for something like this. We really need a team of leads that we could draw from so we don’t have someone working 20 hours in a row overseeing the evolution of this,” he said.

Another challenge, he said, was finding volunteers.

“We’d like to work on a better way to contact folks in case we need them,” he said.

Harriman said the shelter couldn’t accept donations of food, money or clothes.

“That’s something we can work on between now and the next warming shelter,” he said.

Harriman said he didn’t readily know the cost to the county of the shelter.

He was pleased officials could organize the shelter within 48 hours before the cold front hit.

“It went really smooth,” he said.

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

Previous coverage:

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

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