The Hermiston Warming Station is preparing to open for the winter season on Nov. 23, but its capacity is likely to be significantly reduced due to COVID-19.

Sandy Francis, the warming station’s new board chair, said the board is in consultation with Umatilla County Public Health on what will be allowable and how best to protect guests and volunteers at the nonprofit emergency shelter.

“We’re looking for different ways we can do 6-foot distancing, but still maximize the space we have,” she said.

Since it moved to a house at 1075 S. Highway 395 in 2016, the warming station has had a capacity for about 22 people per night. Francis said they have a sleeping room for men, one for women and one for families. But she said if cots must be 6 feet apart this year, capacity will be more like eight guests.

“Usually we have enough space for 22 people, and we’ve had some nights where we’ve had to turn people away because we didn’t have room for them,” she said.

Francis said they have looked for a bigger space to use this year, but so far haven’t found a viable option. She said they are concerned about that, and concerned that fears of COVID-19 will prevent people from volunteering for shifts. Last year, the station had to close several times on cold nights because there were not enough volunteers available to staff the site.

Volunteers will be required to wear masks, hand sanitizer stations will available and the board has swapped out fabric furniture for items more easily sanitized, and other precautions will be taken to ensure safety. The board is currently looking at installing plastic dividers between cots.

Even if the warming station doesn’t have enough volunteers to staff the shelter overnight, Francis said, they are committed to at least being open thosr nights until 1 so guests can come in and warm up for a little bit and have some soup.

The board has scheduled 16 different training times for volunteers (see accompanying information box). All volunteers, including returnees, must complete the 90-minute training session and have a background check before volunteering.

Colder, snowier winters usually mean an increase in guests for area warming stations. On Monday, Oct. 26, Hermiston saw a record-low temperature for the date, at 18 degrees. Other surrounding communities also set records Sunday, Oct. 25.

If people are concerned about the safety or time commitment of volunteering on overnight shifts at the warming station, they can also make donations. Francis said the warming station is running on a “very slim budget” this year after not getting a grant it normally does. People can donate money to pay for background checks for volunteers and supplies. The warming station also takes donations of supplies, and Francis said they are in particular need of single-serving, microwavable soup cups and macaroni cups to serve to guests.

To raise money, they are raffling off a 6 foot by 10 foot 2014 Mirage cargo trailer, and people can also choose the Hermiston Warming Station as a recipient of Amazon Smile funds when they purchase items through Amazon.

They are working on setting up a drop box for donations, but for now people can call the Warming Station at 541-303-3256 to set up a time to donate.

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