Warming Center

Nancy Devereux Center Executive Director Tara Johnson goes through food supplies for the Warming Center on Tuesday, Oct. 29, as staff and volunteers prepare to open again that night. The Warming Center has saved lives in its previous three years of being in operation. Already, Johnson said some homeless have shown up with purple fingers as the weather starts to change.

COOS BAY ─ Homeless advocate Tara Johnson has a plan to protect people stuck outside in the heat.

Johnson is the executive director for the Nancy Devereux Center, a place where homeless individuals can find food and resources. As director, she has had to face extreme weather before, though it has always been freezing temperatures in the winter.

For the first time on the Oregon coast, Johnson has had to plan for hot weather.

“…Coos County, and most of coastal Curry County, weren’t really hit by the (recent) heatwave,” she said, but pointed to where she lives, which on the eastern half of the county, that saw temperatures rise to 108 two weeks ago. “That’s hot. It was 89 degrees in our house because we don’t have air conditioning. If it was going to be that hot here, or even in the 90s here, I’d petition the city to open the warming center (as) a cooling center.”

And though the plan to open the Devereux Center’s first cooling center was not needed during the last heatwave, Johnson said she is ready to move forward at any point this summer.

During the winter, Johnson gets into the habit of checking the weather every day to see if the warming center is needed.

“I have not gotten out of the habit this year,” she said. “I look at the weather every day.”

Her mornings start off with her pulling up the county’s jail roster, checking her emails and looking at the weather forecast.

“I’m still looking to see if we’re even in the heat advisory category and through all of this we’ve stayed in the white and not had a heat advisory,” Johnson said. “If there was a heat advisory, I’d be on the phone asking (Coos Bay City Manager) Rodger Craddock and (Coos Bay Fire Chief) Mark Anderson if we could be open as a cooling center.”

The bottom level of the Devereux Center serves as the warming/cooling center space. Johnson explained that if needed to be used as a cooling center, it is well-suited for the job.

“Our lower level is built into the hillside so it’s already many degrees cooler, but we’d (also) get fans,” she said.

Johnson’s one concern would be if the power grid fails due to heat. If that were to happen, the Devereux Center would lose power because it does not have a generator large enough for it to continue operations.

“We’d make sure (people) have food and plenty of water,” Johnson said.

In the meantime, she said she continues to monitor the weather and “if I felt it was an issue, we’d reach out to city officials to figure out an option.”

She is also working to secure a grant that would allow the center to have a “significant-sized generator.”

“We don’t have air-conditioning, but we have fans,” she said, adding that even at the newly opened Coal Bank Village, fans would be brought in. “…(We would) talk to the city about what options we would have there. We would provide an option.”


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