Changes include non-congregate model and COVID-19 safety precautions

The Hood River Warming Shelter opened Monday night for the winter season, and is now open 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. every night through March 14.

The shelter is operating out of a new location this year, the lower parking lot of Hood River Valley Christian Church on Indian Creek Road, to accommodate an open-air, non-congregate shelter model. 

Since the shelter is a significant distance away from downtown Hood River, Columbia Area Transit is operating a shuttle along the Hood River city route. Shelter guests can board the bus at the Woods Court/CFL stop at 6:10 p.m., 7 p.m. and 7:20 p.m. on weekdays, 5:30 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. on weekends, and ride 10 minutes to the shelter site at Hood River Valley Christian Church. Guests can board the bus back into town at 6:40 a.m., 7:40 a.m. and 8 a.m. on weekdays, 7:30 a.m. and 7:50 a.m. on weekends. 

Shelter Services has set up 13 standalone, insulated Pallet shelters, each roughly 100 square-feet in size and able to accommodate up to two guests with social distancing measures in place. The shelters themselves don’t include bathroom facilities, but Shelter Services has outdoor porta-potties on site. 

When guests get off the bus at Hood River Valley Christian Church, Shelter Services will provide each person with a free masks and coffee, and guests will line up to check in and go through a COVID-19 screening in a covered, heated outdoor area. Once they’re cleared of COVID-19 symptoms, a staff member will assign them a spot in one of the Pallet shelters and get them checked in for the night. 

If a guest does have COVID-19 symptoms, they’ll be isolated in a designated Pallet shelter and given a rapid COVID-19 test. Bridges to Health Pathways, a program of the Columbia Gorge Health Council, is providing wraparound support to Warming Shelter guests who test positive for COVID-19, and arranging for them to be transported to the Shilo Inn in The Dalles to carry out their isolation and recovery. 

“There’s just a lot of different ways people support (the shelter),” said Shelter Services Director Sarah Kellems. 

While paid Shelter Services staff are doing all of the on-site shelter work this year, volunteers have found other ways to help: Work groups gathered in the days before the shelter’s opening to assemble the Pallet shelters, and someone even donated an RV so that shelter staff had a warm place to be while they were monitoring on-site. Restaurants are again volunteering to package and deliver meals to the shelter site, and Shelter Services staff will deliver nightly meals to each guest. 

Shelter Services and Hood River Valley Christian Church have notified the surrounding neighborhood and nearby Westside Elementary School about the new shelter site. 

“There have been concerns and questions, and I think that happens anytime there’s a change,” said Kellems. 

In the weeks leading up to the Warming Shelter’s opening, neighbors have expressed worries about safety and security issues that the presence of the homeless shelter could bring to their neighborhood. 

“We all think that the integrity and safety of everybody around is just as important as the safety of our guests,” said Operating Manager Timothy Ryan, adding that while he can monitor and control the safety and wellbeing of guests at the Shelter Services site, “I don’t have eyes everywhere.” He said he encourages neighbors to reach out to him to talk through their concerns, and added that that approach has been largely successful so far. “Even if people are concerned, they’re willing to work with us,” said Ryan. “I think that people have been very supportive in their own ways.” 

Kellems said that she hopes the new temporary site helps raise community awareness about the Warming Shelter and its presence in the community.

More information on Shelter Services’ operations is available online at hoodrivercares.org. Community members are also invited to email info@hoodrivercares.org with questions or concerns. 

Shelter staff will be monitoring the Warming Shelter’s phone line, 541-399-2057, during regular shelter hours, but people are welcome to leave a message during the day. 

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