The Chewelah United Church of Christ has entered into an agreement with Rural Resources to host the Warming Center previously planned for the Chewelah Senior Center Hall.
The Warming Center will be open from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. on nights where temperatures drop to 15 degrees or below (including the wind chill factor). It will provide a warm room for individuals needing temporary shelter from the cold, said Jim Allen, a member of the Warming Center committee.
Men, women and children are welcome to stay as long as they need, no questions asked.
Since it is not a shelter, no food will be provided, but hot water and coffee will be available to guests. There are also tables, chairs and a couch free to use.
Additionally, the community has donated many blankets, warm clothing, and other useful items, such as solar powered flashlights, that guests are invited to take with them after their stay.
Opening nights for the Warming Center will be announced on the Zip’s Drive-In reader board at Highway 395 and Lincoln Avenue. Also look for sandwich boards placed on the highway and at the UCC church on Second and Webster.
Pastor Judith Holloway said the church was a good fit for hosting the Warming Center as it supports the mission of the church to be of service to the community. The church council voted unanimously to allow it in the back room often used for youth activities.
“Through the years we have given voice and substance to our mission presence in the community in a multitude of ways, through our acts of compassion and caring,” Holloway said. “We see the church as holding a unique, special, and important place in today’s world.”
She said a certain population of Chewelah is homeless, but not highly visible. Some are living in housing without heat or water, or staying in their cars.
“Many people are on the edge and barely have enough,” Holloway said.
Allen said the Warming Center is also a helpful place for the younger community members such as teenagers who “couch surf” possibly because of an unstable home life and do not have anywhere else to turn.
“They eventually run out of couches,” Allen said.
Additionally, the Warming Center connects people with local community resources to those who want it through Rural Resources, like information on food, housing, and employment benefits that are available.
Holloway said she has heard of a family finding housing because of information they discovered while using the Colville Warming Center last year.
The Chewelah warming center committee is worried that the Chewelah Public Library will be open less hours each week beginning in January (since the city has cut its funding for 2013). Holloway said it also connects people to community resources and gives them a place to go for few hours during the day.
“There is no place to just get out of the cold in the winter,” Holloway said. “A safe, warm place to just be.”
Although the UCC church is the site of the center and many members are volunteers, the Chewelah Warming Center has become a wider community effort initiated and backed by Rural Resources. About 20 people have volunteered to help, many of whom have a history in the service industry.
Rural Resources provides free mandatory training to the volunteers, which Allen said focuses on conflict resolution, basic orientation to the duties of the program and its philosophy.
A few volunteers will cover shifts during each open night. Allen, a retired therapist from Stevens County Counseling, will also be on call to ease any concerns regarding questionable behavior. He said they are not concerned with why people are acting a certain away, just about what their behavior is and keeping everyone safe. However, he does not believe he will be needed.
Many more businesses and individuals have donated money and items to help set the center up, in addition to providing the various items to help those in need. For example, Chewelah Windermere donated $500 in October through the Windermere Foundation, which receives a portion of each Windermere real estate transaction and donates the money to help support low-income and homeless families in local communities.
“The Chewelah community has been very generous,” Allen said.
Renai Strolin and Peggy Mimnaugh are the co-chairs for the Warming Center committee. Contact Strolin at 509-690-7123 for more information. The Warming Center continues to accept donations.
The Chewelah UCC is located at East 10 Webster Avenue.
By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff
In This Photo: Pastor Judith Holloway and volunteer Jim Allen stand in front of the Welcome sign at Chewelah United Church of Christ, the location of the new Warming Center. Steven Holloway photo