Winter shelter program offers day service

Plan aims to provide warmth for homeless families

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter



Vancouver's homegrown response to overnight winter-weather homelessness will try warming up some daytimes, too.

For help

Winter Hospitality Overflow and other homeless shelters offer help for homeless people.

• Call 360-695-9677 for help.

• The Winter Hospitality Overflow program runs November through March.

• On the Web: Visit the websites of the Council for the Homeless or Winter Hospitality Overflow

For the past decade, the Winter Hospitality Overflow — known as the WHO — has marshaled thousands of volunteers at two local Lutheran church sites, St. Andrew and St. Paul, to house homeless people who can't squeeze into regular shelters as the weather goes bad. St. Andrew, in Orchards, is open to families, couples and single women while St. Paul, in downtown Vancouver, is open only to single men. The WHO season has been Nov. 1 through March 31 every year since 2003.

All that time, WHO clients have packed up and been sent on their way every morning. Sister agency Share Vancouver offers a daytime homeless outreach program that features showers, laundry, mailboxes and other services at its downtown Share House, but the overall size and scope of that program have shrunk since budget cuts hit it in 2010. Also, Share House is a few blocks from St. Paul, but a good eight miles from St. Andrew.

If you go

• What: “Night of Song and Praise,” fundraiser for the Winter Hospitality Overflow.

• When: 7 p.m. Nov. 8.

• Where: St. John’s Catholic Church, 8701 N.E. 119th St.

• Tickets: Free, but a collection for the WHO will be taken.

• Performing: Local praise groups and Bridgetown, the men’s vocal group from Warner Pacific College.

"Every morning during the winter, our families with children have no place to go," said WHO organizer Kevin Hiebert.

Now, the WHO has found a partner willing to offer up some daytime space for those St. Andrew clients. That partner is The Giving Closet, a charity that distributes free clothing and other help to very low-income people. It's a relatively low-profile agency with a big warehouse at 2804 N.E. 65th Ave. That's about three miles from St. Andrew church at 5607 N.E. Gher Road.

The Giving Closet has "this wonderful warehouse space that they currently use for their GED program, but they weren't using it too much during the daytime," Hiebert said.

The daytime shelter will be open only to people who have already signed up with the WHO and slept at St. Andrew church the night before. "They have to have spent the previous night at St. Andrew," said Hiebert.

Please don't call the church or The Giving Closet if you're in need of shelter, Hiebert said. Call the Council for the Homeless' housing hotline, 360-695-9677.

It's all an experiment, Hiebert said. "We don't know what kind of response we'll actually get. It's a pilot," he said. Share, the Council, St. Joseph Catholic Church and Catholic Community Services have also been partners in planning the day shelter effort, he said.

No programming, activities or food are planned at this point.

"We are still waiting to see how many people," he said. Clients of the WHO are always given a sack lunch for the day after their overnight stay, he added.

The WHO is picking up the cost of using the Giving Closet space during the day, Hiebert said. Volunteers willing to put in four-hour shifts are needed to drive the effort, and a volunteer orientation session is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22 at The Giving Closet, which is behind Goodwill, south of Fourth Plain.

Hiebert said the WHO offers 74 beds nightly at its two locations, 50 at St. Andrew and 24 at St. Paul. Last year the overall WHO usage totaled just under 10,000 bed nights, he said. Operating costs for the WHO are approximately $9 per client per night, Hiebert said.

To learn more about the day shelter project or the WHO in general, contact Hiebert at

Concert Nov. 9

To raise the money that keeps the WHO operating, singers and musicians from several local churches will join with Bridgetown, a men's vocal group from Warner Pacific College in Portland, for the annual "Night of Song and Praise."

The free fundraising concert is 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8 at St. John's Catholic Church, 8701 N.E. 119th St. There's no admission charge but an offering will be taken, with all proceeds supporting the WHO.

Praise teams from the Salmon Creek Methodist and St. John's churches will perform during the two-hour concert.