The Salem Warming Network has received a nearly $800,000 boost for the upcoming cold season from the state, a reversal which will allow the emergency shelters to keep unsheltered people warm throughout the winter without needing dozens of volunteers to work overnight.
“We’re going to have funds to do warming this winter,” said Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency. “It’ll still take us about six weeks to hire up for it, but I’m pretty happy with where we ended up.”
The funds are part of an additional $1.28 million from Oregon Housing and Community Services, which Jones said is planned to be added as an addendum to their master grant agreement. Jones said around $800,000 of it will go toward the warming network, while the rest will cover gaps in other sheltering services at ARCHES and Taylor’s House.
Jones said the boost came after six months of advocacy and education to show why the funding was necessary.
The Salem Warming Network, managed by Jones’ agency, opens shelters on nights that reach at or below freezing. Guests can stay overnight from when the shelter opens in the evening until the next morning, receiving hot drinks and snacks. People sleep on blue mats on the floor and can enter the shelter until it’s full.
The money comes from the $24.1 million the legislature allocated in June to supporting existing shelters. OHCS spokeswoman Delia Hernandez said the agency wouldn’t comment on the reason for the additional funding until the contract is finalized, which is expected by the end of November.
Before this announcement, the Salem Warming Network planned to rely mostly on volunteers, as it did before the Covid pandemic. The network would have operated using only $150,000 from the city of Salem, an over 80% cut from last year.
They planned to open roughly 30 beds a night at the ARCHES Day Center, located at 615 Commercial St. N.E., with sitting room for 60 people in a heated tent in the front parking lot, which saw attendance during the first freezing nights of the season the weekend of Oct. 27.
Jones previously said that he was skeptical the network had the capacity to operate through the entire winter without additional funding.
“It’s going to make an enormous difference,” Jones said of the state funding. “It’ll give us the capacity to hire paid staff so that we can operate when the weather does get cold.”
He said that they appreciate the warm tent that the state Department of Human Services provided for the parking lot, which they’ll likely continue to use as they hire new staff.
First Presbyterian Church plans to make its space at 770 Chemeketa St. N.E. available again this year. It will house around 80 to 90 people, making it the largest shelter in the network.
Pastor Greg Bolt said they’re getting prepared to open in time for Salem’s next cold snap. He said the church has been recruiting volunteers and setting up services like laundry.
“The hope is while ARCHES is getting their funding and staffing together we can run the warming center at Salem First Presbyterian Church with volunteers so that it’s open, so that the space is being used, so that we keep our houseless relatives off the streets in the coldest of nights and keep them out of the hospital,” he said.
Bolt said he’s grateful the state funding will be coming in.
“The clients that we serve are often the most vulnerable, and they often can’t or won’t meet some of the requirements from some of the other providers,” he said.
Bolt said the church is also committed to addressing structural issues in homeless services and funding.
“Seeing our clients, our guests as beloved children of God just like anyone else, as a part of the community who have voice and agency, and how we can meet them where they are, provide what they need and then help them become self-sustaining and continue to be part of our community,” he said.
Though the funding will help keep the warming network open with paid staff, Jones said volunteers are still needed.
“The amount of labor that it takes to do this safely and well over the course of the winter is extraordinary,” he said.
He said he hopes volunteers will build experience over the next few years, so that if the state is unable to continue funding it there will be a prepared volunteer base available.
Though Salem has more shelter beds available now than ever before, Jones said the emergency warming shelters are still needed.
“There are still going to be people who rely on that warming system to survive for whatever reason, so we need to keep doing it until one day there’s no longer a need for it,” he said.
UPDATE: This story was updated to include an estimate of when the contract between OHCS and the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency will be finalized.
Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.
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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.