Many unhoused community members in Central Oregon are heading to shelters as this weekend’s cold snap continues into Monday. But the demand is so high, there just hasn’t been enough room.
That’s why Deschutes County and the City of Bend called on First Presbyterian Church to provide a temporary shelter until things start to warm up.
On Saturday night, they started welcoming people in to sleep on cots and get free food and clothing. They’re continuing through Sunday and Monday nights.
It’s not the first time the church has stepped in, and it certainly won’t be the last.
“They are so grateful to have a peaceful, quiet, warm spot and something to eat,” said Brenda Simpson, the Coordinator for Justice Admission at the church. “I had lots of comments that it’s so nice to be somewhere where they can actually sleep and be warm.”
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Former pastor Morgan Schmidt said providing temporary shelter has been a ‘no-brainer’ for years for the church.
“This is probably our fifth time in a couple of years,” Schmidt said. “We’re not a service provider, so we’re not open all the time. But when the temperatures get really, really dangerous, we want to make sure that there’s room for everybody in the community to get out of the elements.”
Seven people showed up on Saturday night, but staff said that’s typical, as not as many people know they’re available on that first night.
On Sunday, as many as 50 guests are expected.
Donations of clothing, shoes, food, and bedding have poured in from community members, many of them from the Pandemic Partners Facebook group.
The Red Cross pitched in with cots, and Shepherd’s House loaned them extra cots and mats as well.
“We had a gentleman walk in wearing only socks as the snow was coming down last night,” Schmidt said. “We had another gentleman come in wearing Crocs as the snow was coming down last night. And so this is a place where we’re really proud to be a community that says, you know, you are not leaving here in your socks. You are not leaving here in your Crocs. We’re going to make sure that you leave here with with boots and and the appropriate attire for this kind of weather and know there’s a safe place you can return tonight and tomorrow night as well.”
Though staff said they are happy to help fill this gap, they hope their services will no longer be needed one day.
“We really want to work with our partners in the community to get to the the root cause of the problem and to establish more affordable housing, more shelter space to just get it so we actually aren’t needed to do these gap-fillers anymore, because it’s not ideal,” Simpson said.
“There’s simply not enough,” Schmidt added. “Whether that’s shelter beds for those who are living unsheltered or permanent supportive housing, transitional housing or affordable housing. We know that housing is the biggest crisis in our community. And so if we can fill in that gap for a few nights when the weather is really bad, we are here for that.”
The shelter opens Sunday and Monday nights at 6 p.m., and closes at 9 a.m. the following mornings.
Church staff says they’ll reopen the doors if temperatures take another sharp turn.
Temperatures were expected to drop as low as 4 degrees in Bend on Sunday night, and 15 degrees Monday night.