An emergency shelter for the homeless landed city approval to operate for another season.
The Astoria Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night in favor of extending the Astoria Warming Center’s permit.
Sean Fitzpatrick, the commission’s president, voted to approve the permit extension, but had recused himself from discussions and voting when the warming center pursued a conditional use permit last year. While he said he supported the warming center’s mission to provide a meal and a bed for people on the coldest nights of the year, he spoke against the center’s location at the time, citing issues from garbage to public safety concerns. Those issues were resolved last year, he said Tuesday.
Nothing about the warming center’s operations will change, said city staff and warming center board members.
It will continue to use the basement of the First United Methodist Church on the corner of Franklin Avenue and 11th Street. A good-neighbor agreement developed during lengthy meetings last year will remain in place. The agreement outlines the warming center’s responsibilities and promises to residents of the neighborhood around the church.
In order for the warming center to get the permit extension, the city required center staff and board members to look at and evaluate alternative sites. Board President Dan Parkison said board members looked at buildings for sale and for rent and met with Clatsop Community College, Columbia Memorial Hospital, the Astoria Armory and other organizations in search of another location. They found nothing that suited the warming center’s particular needs and budget.
No other churches had space that was available or met the warming center’s requirements, Parkison said.
The warming center’s season runs from mid-November through mid-March, but the center can only be open for a total of 90 days on nights when temperatures and other weather factors hit established thresholds.
The Planning Commission’s approval is a huge victory, Parkison said.
“To me that means the Planning Commission that was listening to the neighborhood concerns last year … feels we’ve made tremendous progress in addressing their constituents’ concerns,” he said.
Board members can now get to work soliciting cash donations, recruiting and training volunteers and re-establishing arrangements with local restaurants and businesses for food donations.
The warming center could be one of the few options for people this year. The North Coast experienced a relatively minor winter, said Board Member Annie Martin. But it is unlikely warming centers in Warrenton and the nearby Long Beach Peninsula in Washington state will be open this year. If the winter is harsher this year, Martin expects they will be at capacity in Astoria every night the center is able to be open.
The warming center opened for 80 nights during the last season and served 161 people, according to a head count conducted by staff.
The Planning Commission is still working on a code amendment that would establish how and where warming centers operate in Astoria. The commissioners hope including emergency shelters in city code could make it easier to establish and operate the facilities in the long term, while also minimizing the impact on the neighborhoods where they are located.