The Pendleton Warming Station changed its middle name this week, at least informally.
The warming station operates as an oasis to the homeless on frosty winter nights. But as triple-digit temperatures arrived this week, the shelter doubled as a cooling station.
Heat waves are particularly dangerous for homeless people. They often lack water, sunscreen and shade and already may suffer from health problems that are exacerbated by the scorching heat. Dehydration and heat exhaustion are a risk to those who often don’t have access to air conditioning.
Back in the early days of Neighbor 2 Neighbor, the nonprofit that oversees the warming station, a day center operated in the basement of the United Methodist Church on the most frigid nights of winter and hottest days of summer. Rev. Sandra Kimbrow, pastor at the Methodist church at the time, started the day center and monitored it. When Kimbrow moved away from Pendleton, the day center fizzled because of a shortage of volunteers.
Recently, the organization’s board toyed with the idea of re-starting a daytime cooling station, now that the organization has matured and refined its purpose. The mission, Neighbor 2 Neighbor Executive Director Dwight Johnson said, is basically to get people off the streets in dangerous weather.
“Since we had a heat advisory, we thought this would be a good time for a trial run,” Johnson said.
It was a last-minute decision, he said, made the day before after securing enough volunteers. The word went out on the organization’s website and by word of mouth. Open from 1-5 p.m., it would provide a respite during some of the hottest hours of the day. By 2 p.m., seven people had wandered into the building at 715 S.E. Court Ave. Outside the temperature neared the day’s high of 103 degrees.
Zachary Chase sat in the air conditioning, chatting with two volunteers in the reception area. His skin looked flushed. He had been thrilled to hear about the cooling station and made a beeline for the place.
“It was awesome considering the weather is in triple digits,” Chase said.
He said he tries to drink enough fluids, but knows he doesn’t. On a recent hot day, Chase said he started feeling “dreadful,” with heart palpitations and light-headedness. He thought it might be heat stroke. Going inside stores isn’t really an option since he doesn’t have much money and non-paying customers can’t stay long.
If not for the cooling station opening Tuesday, he likely would have headed for the river.
Next to Chase sat Bryan Miller, who said he learned of the cooling station by chance.
“I was walking into town from where I camp and saw David out front,” Miller said. David is David Williams, treasurer of the Neighbor 2 Neighbor board. Miller returned later when the cooling station opened. Miller, who sported baggy orange shorts, camouflage shirt and a ball cap, said he would have gone to Stillman Park to find shade if not for the cooling station.
There, the men found air conditioning, water and Gatorade, and the chance for a refreshing shower. A few other men sat in a multipurpose room watching television. One napped on the floor.
Johnson said the sleeping area used during the winter will stay closed. That would necessitate more cleaning and oversight and he doesn’t want to burn out his stable of volunteers. The organization depends on them in the winter. Two are needed to staff the facility at all times of operation.
The facility has been offering showers from 1-3:30 p.m. every other Wednesday. Each person signs their name on a list and receives a token good for six minutes of showering.
The cooling station had 11 visitors on Tuesday.
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or 541-966-0810.