PENDLETON — The notion of a warming station on the Umatilla Indian Reservation went from idea to reality in about one week flat.
People had started noticing homeless tribal members sleeping outdoors on the edge of the community and the reality broke some hearts.
“We had people hanging around the governance center and the casino just to get out of the cold,” said James Rinehart, the tribe’s integrated health care coordinator. “It had become noticeable.”
The notion of a tribal warming station germinated at an interagency meeting last Tuesday to consider some housing ideas for homeless tribal members. The idea of a warming station, however, caught fire instead. A steering committee of representatives from different agencies and programs got to work, transforming the old Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Center into a warm shelter with rooms filled with donated furniture and supplies.
They named the facility Cmuytpama (ts-mooy-it-pah-mah), which means “Place of Warming” in a mixture of Umatilla and Walla Walla languages.
On Monday, organizers and others stood in the warming station’s multipurpose room in a circle, singing to the rhythm of a bell. Their voices faded away and they turned in a circle as one.
Corinne Sams, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Board of Trustees, said she was proud of how quickly the warming station came together.
“It shows we can have one mind and one heart,” she said. “My heart is happy.”
Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center CEO Lisa Guzman said the 14-bed warming station will open when the temperature drops below 35 degrees. Several different rooms will house overnight guests, with men and women in separate quarters. Guests at the warming station, at 73282 July Grounds Lane, will be able to get a warm shower and sleep on a cot.
Guzman said she originally thought the timeline was “ambitious,” but came around.
“We did this together, everyone taking a piece of the responsibility,” Guzman said.
Julie Taylor, the director of Children and Family Services for the tribe, wiped some tears.
“It’s happy times, but yet,” Taylor said, her voice breaking slightly. “We shouldn’t be at the point of needing a warming shelter for our people.”
She acknowledged the reality of mental health and substance abuse issues driving some of the homelessness.
“Sometimes it’s just about opening a door,” she said.
The warming station will have a coordinator and a security officer. Tribal police will stop by regularly each evening the facility is open. The group used the Pendleton Warming Station as a model and have similar policies and procedures.
Timing for the warming station is just about perfect.
“The snow is coming,” Guzman said.