GRANTS PASS – Building on a clear action plan created at a roundtable discussion facilitated at City Hall Oct. 24 by City Manager Aaron Cubic, the reality of a Grants Pass Warming Station to serve the homeless during inclement weather could be a reality in just a matter of weeks. Bringing interested parties and stakeholders together again to report on the status of plans created at the initial roundtable, Cubic facilitated a second meeting at City Hall Nov. 13 to call upon leaders in the effort to report the status of their accepted assignments.
Kelly Wessels, chief operating officer of United Community Action Network (UCAN), provided the initial report. Wessels’ organization agreed to take the lead in the effort to create a warming station at the roundtable Oct. 24. She made it clear that there is a major difference between a homeless shelter and an emergency warming station.
“It’s important that the shelter lane be very separate from an inclement weather station. Those two words (shelter and station) can not be separated enough as far as I’m concerned,” she said.
She also revealed expectations of finalizing lease negotiations by the end of this week on a building suitable to serve the needs of an emergency warming station.
“We have a building that is well located, well lit, and well identifiable,” said Wessels, who declined to divulge the location until after a final lease agreement can be signed.
Wessels said the location meets the major requirements of a warming station, and that actions to facilitate funding, staffing, security, and equipment needs are all moving forward.
“We have very concrete steps to follow,” she said.
Approximately $100,000 is available to fund the effort for the next year to create a station that can be open during extreme winter weather nights, as well as extremely hot days in the summer, or during any potential air quality days caused by fires in the region.
“It doesn’t mean it will be open every day. It will be weather triggered. It certainly is not a cure-all,” said Wessels.
The building she is negotiating for has approximately 10,000 square feet and ample parking. It is located in an appropriately zoned area, and on non-emergency days it can be used for training staff and volunteers, cleaning and preparation for active nights, and “non-public facing support activities,” she said.
The initial plan is to open space for 25 beds. Wessels said that it is important to accommodate that number correctly, before growing larger.
Grants Pass City Councilor Valerie Lovelace agreed.
“It is imperative we start small and demonstrate success over time,” said Lovelace.
Sam Engel of AllCare Health spoke about expectations of the costs savings to the community a warming station can represent with regards to demand on emergency services and law enforcement responses. Wessels said she would be calling on AllCare and other stakeholders to help provide support services to the station and track the outcomes.
“We are comfortable with being the lead agency here, but we are seeking partnerships,” said Wessels, who briefly discussed possible subcontracting with other agencies to assist with services such as on-site security and consumables such as food, meals, water, and medical supplies.
“On-site security establishes a behavioral standard,” Wessels said.
Pastor Dennis Webber of Parkway Christian Center opened the conversation to standard operating procedures and memorandums of understanding between UCAN and supporting organizations.
Wessels indicated that there are multiple models to follow, but additional clarification will be needed moving forward into operations.
“Some committee work will be required around that as we move forward with staffing and other elements,” said Wessels.
“We’re taking the best models that were deployed in other communities,” she said.
Volunteer and long-time activist on this issue, Geneva Matson, has been maintaining a “robust” list of potential volunteers to assist at the warming station once it is operational. She said the list included former law enforcement and medical industry workers who understand the importance of being available to work late night shifts to facilitate the needs of the station.
Wessels said she believed she had funding available to provide at least two full time employees to manage the facility and support volunteer efforts.
“I believe in volunteers being well supported, but there also has to be somebody trained that is responsible,” said Wessels.
Members of the action group requested Cubic facilitate another meeting of stakeholders 3 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9, at City Hall to report on further progress and activities. In the meantime, Wessels will move forward with lease negotiations, and individual meetings with representatives of support agencies to move forward with getting the warming station open. The hope is that the next meeting will include reports about initial operations, depending on the weather.
“Who knows what the weather will give us? I can’t control Mother Nature,” said Wessels.
Cubic thanked Wessels and UCAN for leading the effort to make the warming station a reality.
“UCAN is really stepping up and starting something tremendous for the community,” said Cubic.