EMPIRE — On Tuesday morning, people walked into the Nancy Devereux Center with purple fingers.
Now that chilly weather has arrived, the Devereux opened its Warming Center for the first time of the season Monday night and again Tuesday night for those homeless in the area. This year, the policy allowing it to open has been changed, giving Executive Director Tara Johnson more notice if the center can open or not.
Nancy Devereux Center's chef, Sam Houseman, rests in the Warming Center downstairs on Tuesday as staff and volunteers prepare to open that nig…
“I’m not scrambling to put things together at the last minute,” she said.
In the past three years since the Warming Center has been in operation, Johnson could only open it on nights when the wind chill was 32 degrees or colder. Now in its fourth year, the city policy allows it to be open when the actual temperature is 36 degrees or if there are weather warnings for high wind and heavy rain. The Warming Center can also now be opened if the wind chill is 32 degrees or colder.
Johnson credited this change in city policy to Coos Bay’s Homeless Workgroup.
“This came out of those efforts,” she said.
Though the staff at the Warming Center didn’t get approval to open on Monday, Oct. 28, until 4:30 p.m., word spread quickly and almost 20 homeless individuals showed up. Even so, Johnson and staff at the Devereux helped warm people up when they arrived for breakfast and had purple fingers.
“People aren’t as prepared for this weather like in December when they expect cold temperatures, because this is the first weather event we’ve had and it caught them by surprise,” Johnson said. “We handed out a bunch of scarves, gloves and hand warmers because people were so cold.”
Though people aren't allowed to sleep at the Warming Center, since it isn’t equipped to meet the city codes to be a shelter, it does have sofas for homeless to relax as they get warm. It also serves hot meals until 10 p.m., though can still feed people who come in later that need the hot food. The Warming Center also has hot beverages available all night long, from coffee and tea to hot cocoa.
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In previous years, the Warming Center has done more than just keep people out of the cold. It has also helped save lives.
Nancy Devereux Center Executive Director Tara Johnson goes through food supplies for the Warming Center on Tuesday, Oct. 29, as staff and volu…
“We have had two people who came in who were hypothermic but refused medical treatment,” Johnson said. “So we followed protocol given by the American Red Cross to warm them up slowly, wrap them in warm blankets. One woman survived the night in the cold because her dog cuddled with her and kept her core temperature warm until she could get to us.”
To find out if the Warming Center is open on any given night, call 541-888-3202 or check its Facebook page.
“If people are walking by, they can also read our reader board because we’ll post it there as well,” Johnson said. “But word of mouth spreads quickly too. We try to get the word out if we’re open through the homeless grapevine.”
If someone sees a homeless individual in need of the Warming Center but on the other side of town, there are no transport services available right now. But Johnson said it costs $8 to call Yellow Cab for a one-way trip to the Warming Center.
“I don’t have a van any longer for transport, but if someone wants to donate a van I’ll figure out staffing,” she said
Financial donations are always accepted, allowing the center freedom to purchase food it needs or to pay for extra dump runs if the Warming Center is open more than two nights in a row.
To donate money, food or other items, call the center at 541-888-3202.
“This is our fourth year operating the Warming Center,” Johnson said. “We so appreciate the community’s support because we believe this makes a difference in people’s lives and we can’t do it without community support.”