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May 26, 2022

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Clark County churches, nonprofits work to keep homeless out of the cold

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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4 Photos
Client Uriah Schlosser of Vancouver keeps out of the cold as he takes a seat at the St. Paul Lutheran Church warming shelter Wednesday afternoon.
Client Uriah Schlosser of Vancouver keeps out of the cold as he takes a seat at the St. Paul Lutheran Church warming shelter Wednesday afternoon. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Uriah Schlosser, 33, has metal in his hip, wrist and jaw — remnants from surgery he had following a car accident. Now, freezing weather causes him severe pain.

Last week’s snow forecast was bad news for Schlosser, a homeless Vancouver resident.

Clark County’s homeless shelters normally operate through the night only. But when it’s freezing outside during the day, spending the afternoon outdoors can be fatal. To mitigate that risk, multiple shelters are operating 24/7 to keep people like Schlosser out of the cold.

Schlosser’s been staying at the Winter Hospitality Overflow shelter at St. Paul Lutheran Church in downtown Vancouver since October. The shelter, which is operated by the nonprofit Outsiders Inn, helped him get sober, and now Outsiders Inn employees are helping him to find other resources and employment.

“The people here encourage you, and help you to stay positive,” he said at the shelter Wednesday afternoon. The shelter will be open at all hours until the cold spell lifts.

To access the WHO and the Satellite Overflow Shelters — another shelter operated by Outsiders Inn that rotates through different locations — people need to call the Council for the Homeless housing hotline at 360-695-9677.

According to Adam Kravitz, Outsiders Inn executive director, both the WHO and SOS are currently at capacity, with 29 men at the WHO and 15 people at the SOS.

But things are always changing, he said, and people in need of shelter shouldn’t hesitate to call the hotline.

“As an organization, we had to shift and pivot to make sure we weren’t sending anyone back out into the cold,” Kravitz said. “We need to protect the people that we already have.”

Over the past week, Kravitz has been working to open the Safe Stay Community, a new shelter opened by the city of Vancouver and operated by Outsiders Inn. Twenty people moved into the space on Dec. 23.

“All three of our shelters are now 24/7 through at least New Year’s,” Kravitz said. Altogether, they house and feed some 65 people.

Additional shelter space

Living Hope Church in central Vancouver is accepting walk-ins every night. The church changes operations day by day, and 24/7 access is occasionally available, according to Council for the Homeless spokesperson Laura Ellsworth. Those interested in staying at the shelter can call the church at 360-944-3905.

The walk-in option Living Hope provides has been extremely helpful, Ellsworth said.

“Sometimes people think they can head out into the cold and that they’ll be fine, but then they realize they can’t,” Ellsworth said. “Living Hope helps them.”

Additionally, another new shelter, called Bertha’s Place, operated by Columbia River Mental Health Services and Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, opened in west Vancouver last week, and it sheltered more than 30 people over the weekend.

Ellsworth said that Living Hope and Bertha’s Place took a lot of stress off other shelters that quickly reached capacity when snow started to fall on Christmas night.

Council for the Homeless

Council for the Homeless convenes multiple community partners whenever extreme weather strikes, be it snow, smoke or heat.

“We’re really lucky here in Clark County,” Ellsworth said. “We’ve got a really dedicated team of partners that step up in times like this when it gets unbearable outside. No matter the time of year, it seems there’s always something that’s happing with the weather impacting our houseless community.”

Council for the Homeless has also been increasing efforts to meet people experiencing houselessness where they are, especially during extreme weather events, Ellsworth said. That includes providing transportation to people struggling to get to a shelter.

“We’re also focusing on the elderly population and getting them connected to shelter,” she said.

How to help

For people interested in donating to or volunteering at one of the shelters, Ellsworth recommended that they visit the Council for the Homeless’ website at www.councilforthehomeless.org/winter-shelter-volunteering. There, people can sign up for needed volunteering shifts and to provide food at various shelters.

Council for the Homeless always accepts donations of tents, tarps and sleeping bags at its Housing Solutions Center in Vancouver at 2306 N.E. Andresen Road.

Outsiders Inn has a community volunteer Meal Train where people can sign up to provide meals at various shelters. The sign-up sheet can be found at mealtrain.com/outsidersinn.

For those in need of housing or other resources, the Council for the Homeless housing hotline can help, Ellsworth said.

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