Hermiston has been experiencing a cold snap, with a winter storm that sent snow Friday night through Monday. Eastern Oregon is expected to get more snow before the month is out.
That has some local organizations busy trying to help people stay warm.
The Warming Station, which offers a free, warm sleeping place during winter months, has hosted 12 to 14 people a night in the past week. Addie Zumwalt, vice chair of the nonprofit’s board, said the emergency shelter usually sees more like eight to 10 people.
“We’ve had a little more than usual,” she said.
Zumwalt said when it gets extra cold or snowy numbers don’t jump up as significantly as might be expected because the weather often inspires extra generosity from friends and family of potential guests. The shelter has a capacity of 24 people, including the two volunteers per shift.
Some local groups have seen an uptick in the number of people coming in seeking warm clothing.
Jamie Crowell, a community health educator at Good Shepherd Medical Center, said they just finished a monthlong coat drive, and distributed some of them during last week’s Homeless Point-In-Time count.
Crowell said they gave out eight to 10 coats, as well as gloves, hats and socks, but they still have lots left over.
“Anybody that needs them can get one from us,” she said.
Dave Hughes, director of Hermiston’s Agape House, said he hasn’t seen an increase in people coming in to get food, but has noticed more people asking for coats and blankets. While they still have some left, the supply is quickly growing smaller.
“That’s where we can help,” he said.
Desert Rose Ministries, which is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, has seen some more people coming in to get out of the cold. But more than that, said volunteer Glenn Dohman, they’ve been serving more hot meals since the snow fell on Monday.
While some of the people that spend the day at Desert Rose are people doing court-ordered community service, many others are homeless. Dohman said in addition to hot meals, they can get vouchers for clothing at the thrift store that Desert Rose operates. He said they’ve been giving out more of those so that people can get warm clothing and boots. They also keep hats, gloves and socks on hand to distribute to guests.
Dohman said they have sufficient supplies to get them through the cold weather, although they could use more warm clothing donations, as well as sleeping bags, tents, and tarps for people to sleep on.
“We got very fortunate,” he said. “We’ve had a pretty good increase in donations for hot food.”
Some of the people sitting inside Desert Rose on Thursday afternoon are no stranger to having to spend a night in the cold.
“It’s not fun,” said Mark Patterson. “It’s not Boy Scouts camping — it’s survival 101.”
Patterson said he has been coming to Desert Rose since last summer. During the winter, he’s been staying nights at the Hermiston Warming Station, and going to Desert Rose during the day.
He said the stigma of being homeless, whether in cold weather or not, is tough —but he’s glad to have places where he can go.
“This place has been so gracious,” he said as he sat at the table of Desert Rose, drinking a cup of coffee. “A warm place to come and talk to people.”
He said every town could use more places for homeless people to stay, if only to take the pressure off the organizations that support them.
“I’m just a lost sheep looking for his way back home,” he said. “One day I will get there.”
News editor Jade McDowell contributed to this story.