The Astoria Warming Center closed for the night after organizers couldn’t find enough volunteers Saturday.
Dan Parkison, the president of the warming center’s board, spent hours on the phone and internet, trying to find help, before he and the other board members made the decision to close.
With more paid staff on hand this year, the warming center at First United Methodist Church actually needs fewer volunteers than in the past. But people are not volunteering this year like there were last year.
The Warrenton Warming Center is also struggling to find volunteers. The two shelters operate under simple, and similar, mission statements: To get people off the streets when temperatures dip dangerously low. The Astoria center includes factors like rainfall in temperature assessments, allowing more flexibility with when it decides to open. Already, the center has opened for five different nights since the start of the season in mid-November. Warrenton has not opened at all, yet.
There are over 200 people on the Astoria center’s volunteer list, of which less than 10 are “really dedicated,” Parkison said. He worries about wearing out those few dedicated people, and wearing out staff. After gathering feedback from current and past volunteers, he and board members are now scrutinizing how they recruit and communicate with volunteers.
“We can take this one instance (of closing) and react to it and respond to it so we do a better job,” Parkison said
Though Parkison isn’t sure why he has fewer volunteers, he does have one theory.
“I think that, and I could be wrong, people are emotionally tired in the political climate that we have right now,” he said.
Darlene Warren, board chairwoman of the Warrenton Warming Center, has another theory. It’s been too warm. People aren’t stepping outside, feeling the chill, and thinking, “I’d hate to have to sleep outside tonight if I were homeless.”
“I think we’re so early in the season,” Warren said.
Over the last year, however, the Warrenton center’s list of volunteers has dwindled and few people have stepped up to replace those who have stepped down, she said.
Still, she said, “I think it’s always been an issue, so it’s hard to say.”
The decision to close the warming center in Astoria Saturday was hard and discouraging, Parkison said.
The homeless the center serves “make their plans every day on what their resources are and then to take that away from them … there were a lot of stunned people. I could see that in their faces,” Parkison said.
But he concluded it was better to have to close for a night early in the season than later, when the days are consistently chilly.