Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Gresham Underground Emergency Shelter: Our Story

In the Portland area, it has been a cold, long winter. Since late November, there have been more freezing nights than is usual. For those of you in other parts of the country, you may be saying, “It’s been below freezing all winter for us!” But since here in the Willamette Valley we are used to milder temperatures, most people are not prepared for a more severe winter. And if the homeless and homeless services are not prepared, then there are the possibilities of hypothermia, and even death due to being unprepared in the cold. Anawim has tried to be prepared. Since Thanksgiving, Anawim in Gresham has opened for 13 nights to allow people on the street to get out of the freezing, windy weather to stay in the warmth and safety of our Sanctuary’s fellowship hall. SE Anawim has been open 5 nights in our facility in Portland. There are already city shelters in Portland and Gresham and they are very helpful in saving lives in the most severe weather conditions. However, if, say in Gresham, there is a night that is 27 degrees with a 10 mph wind, the city won’t open their shelters, even if there is the possibility of snow. We opened our shelters with the idea that we would keep the homeless safe from the worst weather, only when the city shelters weren't open.

Recently the city discovered that we were opening our Gresham shelter (which we called the Gresham Underground Emergency Shelter, or GUESs), and the Fire Marshal came to visit. The fire code in Gresham, currently, has a few requirements that we have difficulty meeting for a shelter, such as a sprinkler system with a central alarm, and a limitation of 200 square feet per person. They gave us a one night leave so no one would have to sleep out in the freezing rain and then came the next day and shut us down, until we are able to work with the city.

Now we have a quandary. If we accept all the city’s limitations we would not be able to open on some of the nights of the worst weather. Since we have a requirement from the Lord to love the needy, especially those of our own group, then I have a hard time telling our folks to go out in the snow or freezing temperatures when we have the capacity to help them. Or we could try to meet all the fire code and then we have the freedom to help maybe 15 people in our building (we’ve been hosting as many as 30). Please pray as we work with the city and do our best to love our brothers.

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