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Point in Time Count begins in Coquille

COQUILLE — Volunteers from various organizations took to the streets in Coquille on Tuesday to kick off Coos County’s involvement in the nationwide Point in Time Count.

The count is designed to keep track of homeless populations throughout the country in order to determine what sort of state and federal support local organizations that provided assistance to homeless folks can get.

Ed Glazar, The World 

Volunteer Blake Romrell works Tuesday at Bear Cupboard Food Pantry in Coquille.

Over the next couple of days, volunteer groups will be taking count all over the county. Coquille happened to be first.

Wednesday, Jan. 30 will be the largest effort in the county as the count will be stationed in both Coos Bay and North Bend. Aside from groups walking around approaching people on the streets, there will be stations in front of the Coos Bay Library, the North Bend Library, the Nancy Devereux Center, and the Coos Bay boardwalk. Charleston is also included in Wednesday’s count coverage area.

On Thursday, the Mrytle Point and Bandon areas will take part in the count.

In Coquille, a group from Oregon Coast Community Action manned the station at Bear Cupboard Food Bank.

“We’ve got a couple of people walking around town and going to different spots like parks and different places that people frequent,” PIT count volunteer from ORCCA Monique Vasquez said. “We’ve had a couple people so far, mainly people with large families.”

Ed Glazar, The World 

A woman bags oranges Tuesday at the Bear Cupboard Food Pantry in Coquille.

Vasquez said that she suspects numbers in Coquille to be similar to what they were last year.

Folks who show up for the count are offered a free meal and some staple items like toothbrushes, shampoo, a backpack, a p38 can opener and a flashlight.

“We’ve got sandwiches and dog food," Vasquez said. "Then we’ve got backpacks with stuff in them. It helps that we’re at the food bank because they can just move on to the next resource."

Ed Glazar, The World 

Sally McSherry and Bear Wear work Tuesday at the Bear Cupboard Food Pantry in Coquille.

PIT counts are done in January because it’s the coldest time of the year and most homeless folks will make their way to shelters if they’re able.

The count forms are anonymous, requiring the person to give only their first initial of their first name and the first three letters of their last name. Then the person is asked a number of questions about their living situation, how they became homeless, and reasons why they have had trouble maintaining housing.

New Coos County Fairgrounds structure to be completed this summer

MYRTLE POINT — Construction kicked off last week to assemble a new livestock barn at the Coos County Fairgrounds in Myrtle Point.

The new barn is estimated to be completed by June 30, a few weeks prior to the 2019 Coos County Fair & Rodeo season.

Ed Glazar, The World 

Ryan Mang with Morrison Gederos Construction secures a beam Tuesday as work continues a new 33,000-square-foot barn at the Coos County Fairgrounds in Myrtle Point.

According to Coos County Fair board member Daris Bouthillier, the barn, which began as a multi-purpose indoor arena, was scaled back from its original concept last fall due to unforeseen costs and time restrictions.

“Part of the fairgrounds is on a floodplain and in order to build a big multi-use building we discovered that we would have to raise the building up over the floodplain level,” said Bouthillier. “We would have to put in ADA accessible bathrooms and other building requirements which raised costs immensely.”

Last spring, the board discussed constructing a permanent building that would replace costly animal tents and feature its own offices, meeting rooms, restrooms and kitchen area. The temporary tents cost nearly $30,000 a year to rent, set up and tear down, according to Bouthillier.

“The core need is really for a shelter for the animals and the kids that handle them,” said Bouthillier. “We scaled it back to do something that we thought was a lot more realistic and achievable.”

The Coos County Fair Alliance, a nonprofit organization aimed at supporting Coos County Fair projects and programs, has raised over $200,000 for the barn, which is estimated to cost up to $450,000 to complete.

It is expected to house 300 to 400 livestock animals and will feature adjustable pens that can be changed from year to year to meet its housing needs. The proposed 33,000 square foot barn will be located where the tents have been set up in seasons past adjacent to the auction area.

Ed Glazar, The World 

Keith Morrison takes a note Tuesday as Morrison Gederos Construction works Tuesday building a new 33,000-square -foot barn at the Coos County Fairgrounds in Myrtle Point.

“We do have some room in the design to expand in the future if we need to,” said Bouthillier. “The barn will be used almost exclusively for housing animals for the fair and for local 4-H and FFA programs throughout the year.”

The new barn will also include a metal roof and utilities such as electricity and water. This year’s fair season is scheduled to be from July 23-27.  

Ed Glazar, The World 

Marshfield's Mason Ainsworth drives Tuesday against Marist Catholic's JJ Anderson at Marshfield High School.

As cold stalks Midwest, focus on protecting vulnerable

BISMARCK, N.D. — Winter's sharpest bite in years moved past painful into life-threatening territory Tuesday, prompting officials throughout the Midwest to take extraordinary measures to protect the homeless and other vulnerable people from the bitter cold, including turning some city buses into mobile warming shelters in Chicago.

Temperatures plunged as low as minus 26 in North Dakota with wind chills as low as minus 62 in Minnesota. It was nearly that cold in Wisconsin and Illinois. Governors in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan declared emergencies as the worst of the cold threatened today.

The U.S. Postal Service said it will not deliver mail in parts of the Midwest today because of the cold.

The bitter cold is the result of a split in the polar vortex that allowed temperatures to plunge much farther south in North America than normal.

The National Weather Service forecast for tonight called for temperatures in Chicago as low as minus 28, with wind chills to minus 50. Detroit's outlook was for Wednesday overnight lows around minus 15, with wind chills dropping to minus 40.

"These are actually a public health risk and you need to treat it appropriately," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday. "They are life-threatening conditions and temperatures."

A wind chill of minus 25 can freeze skin within 15 minutes, according to the National Weather Service.

At least four deaths were linked to the weather system, including a man struck and killed by a snow plow in the Chicago area, a young couple whose SUV struck another on a snowy road in northern Indiana and a Milwaukee man found frozen to death in a garage.

Officials in large Midwestern cities including Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit were desperately trying to get the homeless off the streets.

Minneapolis charitable groups that operate warming places and shelters expanded hours and capacity, and ambulance crews handled all outside calls as being potentially life-threatening, according to Hennepin County Emergency Management Director Eric Waage. MetroTransit said it wouldn't remove people from buses if they were riding them simply to stay warm, and weren't being disruptive.

Emanuel said Chicago was turning five buses into makeshift warming centers moving around the city, some with nurses aboard, to encourage the homeless to come in from the cold.

Shelters, churches and city departments in Detroit worked together to help get vulnerable people out of the cold, offering the message to those who refused help that "you're going to freeze or lose a limb," said Terra DeFoe, a senior adviser to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

Hundreds of public schools from North Dakota to Missouri to Michigan canceled classes Tuesday, and some on Wednesday as well. So did several large universities.

Closing schools for an extended stretch isn't an easy decision, even though most school districts build potential makeup days into their schedules, said Josh Collins, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Education.

"Many students, they might have two working parents, so staying home might mean they're not supervised," he said. "For some low-income students, the lunch they receive at school might be their most nutritious meal of the day."

The cold was even shutting down typical outdoor activities. A ski hill in the Minneapolis area said it would close through Wednesday. So did an ice castle attraction.

The cold weather was even affecting beer deliveries, with a pair of western Wisconsin distributors saying they would delay or suspend shipments for fear that beer would freeze in their trucks.

The unusually frigid weather is attributed to a sudden warming far above the North Pole. A blast of warm air from misplaced Moroccan heat last month made the normally super chilly air temperatures above the North Pole rapidly increase. That split the polar vortex into pieces, which then started to wander, said Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for Atmospheric Environmental Research.

One of those polar vortex pieces is responsible for the subzero temperatures across the Midwest this week.

US intel chiefs list N. Korea, not border, as threat

WASHINGTON — Directly contradicting President Donald Trump, U.S. intelligence agencies told Congress on Tuesday that North Korea is unlikely to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, that the Islamic State group remains a threat and that the Iran nuclear deal is working. The chiefs made no mention of a crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border for which Trump has considered declaring a national emergency.

Their analysis stands in sharp contrast to Trump's almost singular focus on security gaps at the border as the biggest threat facing the United States.

Top security officials including FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats presented an update to the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday on their annual assessment of global threats. They warned of an increasingly diverse range of security dangers around the globe, from North Korean nuclear weapons to Chinese cyberespionage to Russian campaigns to undermine Western democracies.

Coats said intelligence information does not support the idea that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will eliminate his nuclear weapons and the capacity for building more — a notion that is the basis of the U.S. negotiating strategy.

"We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival," Coats told the committee.

Coats did note that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed support for ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and over the past year has not test-fired a nuclear-capable missile or conducted a nuclear test.

The "Worldwide Threat Assessment" report on which Coats based his testimony said U.S. intelligence continues to "observe activity inconsistent with" full nuclear disarmament by the North. "In addition, North Korea has for years underscored its commitment to nuclear arms, including through an order in 2018 to mass-produce weapons and an earlier law — and constitutional change — affirming the country's nuclear status," it said.

The report said Kim's support at his June 2018 Singapore summit with Trump for "complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula" is a formulation linked to an end to American military deployments and exercises involving nuclear weapons.

Trump asserted after the Singapore summit that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat. However, Coats and other intelligence officials made clear they see it differently.

"The capabilities and threat that existed a year ago are still there," said Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Plans for a follow-up Trump-Kim summit are in the works, but no agenda, venue or date has been announced.

More broadly, the intelligence report on which Coats and the heads of other intelligence agencies based their testimony predicted that security threats to the United States and its allies this year will expand and diversify, driven in part by China and Russia. It says Moscow and Beijing are more aligned than at any other point since the mid-1950s and their global influence is rising even as U.S. relations with traditional allies are in flux.

"Some U.S. allies and partners are seeking greater independence from Washington in response to their perception of changing U.S. policies on security and trade," the report said, without providing examples or further explanation.

The report also said the Islamic State group "remains a terrorist and insurgent threat" inside Iraq, where the government faces "an increasingly disenchanted public."

The intelligence assessment, which is provided annually to Congress, made no mention of a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, which Trump has asserted as the basis for his demand that Congress finance a border wall. The report predicted additional U.S.-bound migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, with migrants preferring to travel in caravans in hopes of a safer journey.

In Syria, where Trump has ordered a full withdrawal of U.S. troops, the government of Bashar Assad is likely to consolidate control, with Russia and Iran attempting to further entrench themselves in Syria, the report said. Asked for her assessment, Haspel said of the IS group: "They're still dangerous."

The intelligence agencies said Iran continues to work with other parties to the nuclear deal it reached with the U.S. and other Western nations. In doing so, they said, it has at least temporarily lessened the nuclear threat. In May 2018, Trump withdrew the U.S. from that accord, which he called a terrible deal that would not stop Iran from going nuclear.

Coats told the committee that Russia and perhaps other countries are likely to attempt to use social media and other means to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

"We expect our adversaries and strategic competitors to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other's experiences, suggesting the threat landscape could look very different in 2020 and future elections," the intelligence report said.