Truckee church opens emergency warming shelter for 2015-16 winter | SierraSun.com

Truckee church opens emergency warming shelter for 2015-16 winter

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

TRUCKEE, Calif. — For the first time, people without shelter in the North Tahoe/Truckee region have a designated safe and warm place to stay during frigid or snowy evenings this winter.

The Church of the Mountains at 10079 Church St. in downtown Truckee is operating a Cold Weather Emergency Warming Center when temperatures drop to dangerous levels, or if there's a severe incoming storm.

"Part of the historical story here (is) of the Donner Party; people who didn't survive the cold in the winter. That's been part of our myth," said the Rev. Clare Novak, with St. Patrick's Episcopal Church, a member of United for Action. "I really embrace the notion of let's not make this story of those who die in the cold a contemporary story."

United for Action, a coalition of nonprofits and faith-based organizations along the North Shore, has been working toward creating a warming center in the region after an internal 2013 informal survey revealed a popular request by individuals in need was for emergency housing, particularly in winter, she said.

Opening of the warming center is triggered when forecasts issued by the Nevada County Office Emergency Services call for temperatures or overnight wind chill of below 15 degrees for at least four hours; snowfall of 12 inches or more overnight; or extreme weather events such as severe rain storms.

If volunteers can be mobilized, an email alert is issued by noon to United for Action members, local family resource centers, law enforcement agencies, local hospitals and Truckee's California Welcome Center, notifying them the warming center will open that evening, so those seeking shelter can be directed to the Church of the Mountains, said Cathie Foley, coordinator for the Cold Weather Emergency Warming Center.

Recommended Stories For You

As for transportation, center guests arrive by their own. Law enforcement and other agencies may drive guests to the warming center, but the center's coordinator and volunteers will not transport them.

'We cover everybody'

Since being approved for a temporary use permit by the Truckee Planning Commission on Dec. 15, 2015, the warming center has opened eight nights, as of Sunday, with 2 to 5 people using the service each night, Foley said.

Located on the ground floor of the church, the warming center can hold up to 20 people, with at least one trained volunteer present for every five guests.

Anyone 18 years old or older whose sleeping arrangements are normally outdoors, in cars or in unheated spaces can use the service.

Meanwhile, families with children under 18 who arrive at the center will be provided alternative lodging found and paid for through received donations, due to liability issues.

"We cover everybody, one way or another," said Donna Farrell, a pastor at Church of the Mountains. "No one is going to be out in the cold that night if they don't want to be."

Users will be provided meals and beverages, cots, hygiene kits, donated clothing if needed and information regarding area social services, Foley said.

Pets of guests will be allowed in the center, but must stay in a provided kennel.

When open, the warming center will operate from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. the following day. In the event of an extreme multi-day storm, it may remain open during the day, as long as volunteers are available.

Should the center be open at the same time as normal church operations, those operations will be moved to the second floor.

Safety goes both ways

While many community members voiced support for the center when public comment was taken, a few did raise safety concerns.

"As a homeowner and father of three kids who live in close proximity to the location, I have concerns about the possibility of the project attracting homeless people to the area," wrote Truckee resident Alan Nicholls in a letter dated Nov. 23, 2015, to a member of the town's planning staff. "An increase in homeless people comes a decrease in safety … I am mindful of the plight of the homeless, whether they are homeless on a temporary or long-term basis, but aid to them should not come at the cost of the safety of my family."

According to the temporary use permit, center guests must follow rules such as no violence; no possession or use of alcohol, drugs or weapons in or around the center; and once checked in, one is required to remain indoors.

In addition, volunteers will be trained in conflict resolution, safety and security. Should a situation arise that cannot be handled or defused by volunteers, law enforcement will be contacted.

Meanwhile, a short-term goal of the warming center is to keep those with insecure housing safe during the winter.

"We know that people who are chronically homeless here can often make it through the rest of the year, but then in the winter months, we are seeing life-threatening situations every year," Novak said. "There are people who die of exposure in our community, and that is absolutely unacceptable."

Prior to Church of the Mountains, no shelters existed in the greater North Tahoe/Truckee region, in part due to the area's small homeless population, according to a previous report.

Earlier efforts by United for Action to open a warming center on Lake Tahoe's West Shore at Camp Noel Porter have ceased due to the project not garnering necessary support, Novak said.

Last January, 37 homeless people were counted in Truckee and the lakeside of Placer County as part of a nationwide census of the homeless population through the Department of the Housing and Urban Development.

Moving forward

The warming center is allowed to operate until the end of April and is not limited in the number of days it can open, as long as triggers are met.

When asked about the estimated cost to run the warming center, Foley said a figure was still being determined. However, funding for the pilot program is anticipated to come from donations and grants.

As a pilot program, detailed records such as the number of evenings the center was open, guest demographics and operational cost will be kept.

By April 29, such information will be reported back to the town's planning division, upon which town officials, Church of the Mountains and United for Action will assess the service.

"We have our best vision of what it will be, but we'll find out as we do it," Novak said.

Contact information

Call 530-386-7954 to learn if the Cold Weather Emergency Warming Center is open on a given day.

Email Cathie Foley at comumc@sbcglobal.net if interested in donating goods, money or time to the warming center.

Visit churchofthemountains.com to learn more about Church of the Mountains.