Surviving the night

The Devereux Center opens its basement to local homeless in January 2016 to keep warm on some of the harshest nights of the year. In addition to a roof over their head, the clients have access to food, restrooms, and limited supplies.

Bethany Baker, The World

COOS BAY — Coos Bay has seen warming centers come and go, but now officials want an ordinance to help manage the facilities.

The idea for a city ordinance rose in early October when City Manager Rodger Craddock suggested it to the fire department.

“An ordinance would mean we wouldn’t approve these facilities on a case-by-case basis anymore, but have the ordinance lay out ground rules for anyone who wanted to open a warming center,” said Coos Bay Fire Chief Mark Anderson.

But when Anderson started looking into it, he found a can of worms. Writing a brand new ordinance meant that the city needed to establish the differences between a warming center, temporary shelter and an emergency shelter.

“They all sound similar, but are not the same,” Anderson said.

He worked with the city building officials and came up with definitions based off web searches and research on what other jurisdictions have done.

“Essentially a warming center is open for inclement weather as a place of refuge, typically not to provide bedding or separate living spaces but a place for people to get out of the elements,” Anderson said.

Meanwhile, a temporary shelter is a place that puts individuals or families up in a facility not designed to be a residence. Often these places are churches.

“Restrictions include needing adequate privacy and separation between people,” Anderson said. “If you put people up, you need bathroom and shower facilities, the ability to have some form of privacy.”

Finally, an emergency shelter would only be used in the case of a disaster like Hurricane Katrina. Coos Bay’s version of the Superdome would potentially be school campuses and churches, or large areas with no expectation of privacy.

All three of these facilities require pre-approval.

“In October I went to the Nancy Devereux Center to say we are working on an ordinance, but since we have potential for cold weather we had city approval to allow them to operate as a warming center under certain conditions,” Anderson said. “It isn’t the first warming center Coos Bay has had though. Prior to the Devereux was the Green Spot and Joey’s Arcade.”

Though the Devereux is approved to operate as a warming center this season, it will need re-approval next year once the ordinance is formally approved by the city council.

“The reality is anyone who wants to be a warming center, whether they be a church or a business, can be right now,” Anderson said. “They need to notify us, contact the city, and we will inspect the structure and determine if it is feasible and to what degree.

“The benefit of having an ordinance is to make it standard across the board, where it won’t matter who applies and they won’t be subject to someone’s interpretation. There will be a fair process so when I one day retire, someone else can pick up the same document and interpret it the same way.”

As the weather grows colder, interested parties can notify the city to establish a warming center. To do so, call the building department at 541-266-1098.

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.

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