Clark County’s winter shelters are bracing for another cold snap later this week.
With possible snow on Wednesday and temperatures forecasted in the low 20s on Thursday and Friday night, Council for the Homeless will likely issue a severe weather alert activating increased emergency shelter capacity.
The county’s shelter providers know the drill by now. During last week’s cold overnight temperatures and scattered snowfall, winter shelters were activated Tuesday through Friday.
“It’s been kind of a long stretch of some cold nights,” said Laura Ellsworth, Council for the Homeless’ strategic partnerships and advocacy manager. “It gets challenging when it just keeps going and going.”
Temperatures later this week will be 15 to 20 degrees below average for this time of year, according to Noah Alviz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland.
Ellsworth is grateful for the council’s shelter partners that open their doors on nights with snow, ice or freezing temperatures. Two months into the winter season, she said the county’s winter shelters have operated smoothly.
“We have been fortunate this season so far that the nights that we have called severe weather, we haven’t had significant snow or freezing rain at the same time, they’ve just been cold,” Ellsworth said.
The lack of snow and ice has made it easier for volunteers and people in need to get to shelters. That trend will probably continue this week. “Right now in the forecast, we have zero inches of snow to, at most, maybe a dusting,” Alviz said.
Living Hope Church operates an overnight walk-in shelter during severe weather. New volunteers have helped make this season “extremely smooth,” according to Brian Norris, Living Hope’s outreach pastor.
The church’s low-barrier shelter has capacity for about 50 people and provides anyone in need with dinner, breakfast and a warm place to sleep. The church hasn’t had to turn anyone away this season for capacity reasons, according to Norris.
Norris also noted that Living Hope’s shelter demand has decreased significantly this year. He thinks Vancouver’s new shelter spaces — like Bertha’s Place and the city’s Safe Stay Communities and Safe Park — have something to do with it.
“Two or three years ago on a 20-degree night, we’d see 100-ish people, and now we’re seeing like 50 was our max this year,” Norris said. “So people are finding elsewhere to go, which is great.”
Even with increased options and this season’s relatively fortunate weather, sheltering everyone in need remains a challenge.
During crucial times like cold snaps, Council for the Homeless is typically able to get the most vulnerable residents into shelters or hotels — “But it’s definitely always a challenge, and I wouldn’t say that every single person gets inside who needs to,” Ellsworth said. “There is a shortage of emergency shelter in our community as a whole.”
Winter shelters can only open if there are enough volunteers to run them. Refuel Washougal, which meets winter shelter needs in east Clark County in partnership with the city of Washougal, has had trouble finding volunteers, according to Ellsworth.
“We do the best we can with the resources that we have,” Ellsworth said. “Definitely looking forward to spring.”
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.