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December 8, 2009

Freezing cold prompts Kelso church to open emergency shelter

Shelters prohibit registered sex offenders access even in sub-zero temperatures. Lawmakers nationally fail to resolve this issue.. We urge folks to contact your local lawmakers and shelters, and ask them to resolve this issue before another freezes to death.
12-8-2009 Washington:

Due to this week’s freezing temperatures, a Kelso church has opened an overnight shelter for the homeless, and Community House in Longview is allowing people to sleep in its lobby.

“We’re not going to leave anybody out in that type of weather,” Community House director Rich Kirk said Monday.

The mercury has dipped below freezing for the last several nights, and forecasters expect the cold streak to continue through Friday. Nighttime lows in the teens are predicted tonight and Wednesday.

The cold is believed to have caused the death of Longview resident Wade Giles, 53, who was found dead Friday morning in a vacant, unheated room in the upstairs apartments in the 1200 block of Commerce Avenue.

“It’s suspected that exposure is playing a key factor in his death,” Cowlitz County Coroner Tim Davidson said Monday, noting that the temperature hovered around 25 degrees the night Giles died.

The death investigation is still open, and Giles’ official cause of death is still pending, Davidson said.

Because of the life-threatening weather conditions, several church groups and community agencies decided to open an emergency nighttime shelter for the second year in a row at Kelso First Assembly of God Church, said church member Liz Haeck. Among those involved in the effort are PATH Lower Columbia Mental Health, Mountain Ministries, the Highlands Activities and Beautification Association and the Cowlitz County Department of Emergency Management.

“If there’s a need, we want to be available,” Haeck said.

The shelter opened Monday night in the church’s Activity Center upstairs at 300 N. 4th Ave (at the corner of Fourth and Academy Street) across from the Cowlitz County Administration Building in Kelso. Hot soup and finger foods will be served to guests, who may use the shelter from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.

The church has several twin bed mattresses but could use more twin-sized sheets and blankets, said Haeck, who can be reached at (360)442-0612.

Although guests aren’t screened, the shelter is well manned, and staff members even keep watch while people sleep, she said. Unruly guests who refuse to cooperate will get the boot, and two people were ousted from the shelter last December.

Community House, at 1107 Broadway in Longview, has launched “Operation Frozen Foot,” allowing people to sleep in the lobby at night during freezing weather. (The Longview homeless shelter’s beds generally are full, and 78 residents are there now, according to Kirk.) If there’s high demand, the shelter will give the most vulnerable people priority: families, the elderly, disabled and medically fragile.

Even people under the influence of drugs or alcohol would be allowed in the lobby after 10 p.m. if they’re not disruptive, Kirk said. However, the shelter won’t bend on its policy of barring convicted sex offenders, because women and children live at the facility, he said.

Although the lobby can hold 10 people, only three people at most have taken advantage of “Operation Frozen Foot” on any night so far, Kirk said, calling the low turnout “a little bit surprising.”

Community House staff patrol downtown looking for people trying to sleep outdoors, but they haven’t found anyone lately, he said. Police know they can refer people to the shelter, and the shelter has been spreading the word among people who come to Community House to eat, he said.

“At least during this real cold season, there is a place they can go overnight,” he said.

You Can Help

Community House in Longview is seeking donations of blankets, sleeping bags, warm gloves, hats and coats for its residents.

The shelter also is requesting Christmas gifts for its 70 to 80 adult clients, who include people in the Country Run transitional housing program. The gift distribution is coordinated through the Salvation Army so people can’t “double dip,” said Community House director Rich Kirk.

“Many times people donate, but it’s always for kids,” Kirk said Monday. “We try to give presents to all the adults as well. ... Because we’re all big kids anyway, right?” ..Source.. Amy M.E. Fischer

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