Capital Park church steps up to shelter Salem homeless in winter

Capital Park Wesleyan Church will house about 50 homeless people on below freezing winter nights, becoming the fourth Salem church to join the warming center network. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

A fourth Salem church will shelter homeless people overnight during the winter months, adding space for about 50 more people to sleep indoors in freezing weather.

Homeless advocates hope the addition of Capital Park Wesleyan Church to Salem’s warming center network will mean people seeking shelter aren’t turned away for lack of space.

It also means more volunteers are needed to keep warming centers open when temperatures drop below freezing.

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The church is located about a half mile east of Willamette University at 19th Street Southeast and Mill Street Southeast.

It’s close enough to downtown that people can easily take the bus or walk if First Presbyterian Church fills up.

“First Presbyterian hit capacity so many times last year,” said Kaylynn Gesner, the volunteer outreach coordinator for the ARCHES Project, which manages the shelter network. She’s hopeful that will be less of a problem with the new site open.

READ: Salem warming centers work to boost volunteer roster before winter

Capital Park has a large community center attached to the church which is used for weekly community meals and a food pantry.

Church leaders have been talking to ARCHES about joining the network since early this year.

Pastor Claude Alley came to Capital Park about eight months ago from Wyoming, where his church ran a homeless shelter.

“Seeing the homelessness we have here, the numbers are probably 10 times what I saw in Wyoming,” he said. It’s visible in the neighborhood around the church; Alley said most nights, someone sleeps at the church’s back door.

Joining the warming network fits in with the church’s other ministries, which also serve local homeless people, he said.

“We’re coming alongside people to hopefully keep them alive and letting them know you’re important,” he said. “For us it’s a real blessing to help in the community.”

Gesner said the plan for this winter is to open First Presbyterian as a primary warming center because it holds about 90 people. Capital Park would be the next to open, then South Salem Friends Church and Church at the Park.

Keeping all four churches open for a night requires about 78 volunteers. The churches provide shelter any night between Nov. 1 and March 31 when overnight temperatures are forecasted below freezing.

Volunteering requires a two-hour training about the warming center network and interacting with guests, and a second site-specific training covering logistics at the church where the volunteer plans to work.

Those interested can sign up for training here. A full schedule is below.

Thursday, October 3rd @ Church at the Park

         * General Volunteer Training from 12pm-2pm

         * Site Training from 2:30pm-4:30pm

Wednesday, October 9th @ Capital Park

         * General Volunteer Training from 12:30-2:30pm

         * Site Training from 3pm-5pm

Saturday, October 12th @ First Presbyterian

         * General Volunteer Training from 8am-10am

         * Site Training from 10:30am-12:30pm

Monday, October 14th @ Friends Church

         * Site Training from 9am-11am

         * General Volunteer Training from 11:30am-1:30pm

Wednesday, October 16th @ First Presbyterian

         * Site Training from 3pm-5pm

         * General Volunteer Training from 5:30pm-7:30pm

Tuesday, October 22nd @ Capital Park

* Site Training Only from 5:30pm-7:30pm

Thursday, October 24th @ Friends Church

        * General Volunteer Training from 3pm-5pm

        * Site Training from 5:30-7:30pm

Friday, October 25th @ First Presbyterian

        * Site Training 9am-11am

        * General Volunteer Training 11:30am-1:30pm

The RSVP link is:

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.