The Astoria Warming Center, an overnight shelter for the homeless, served more than 200 people during the recent cold months, according to the nonprofit’s operational report.
Between Nov. 15 and Feb. 28, the center — run in the First United Methodist Church basement on Franklin Avenue — took in 148 men and 64 women. These figures include six people under 18, a dozen between 18 and 24, 43 senior citizens 55 and older, and 23 veterans.
On average, 30 people slept at the warming center per night; the maximum allowed was 35. All told, the shelter had 3,126 overnight stays.
When the center was founded in 2014, it opened only during foul-weather nights or when temperatures were expected to dip below 40 degrees. But a grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust enabled the organization to open every night during that 3 1/2-month stretch.
“It would be best if we didn’t have to be here, but it’s life and death for a lot of people,” Alison Coffinbarger, the board president, said.
Without the daily chore of finding a place to sleep, people could spend their days improving their situation.
“We had a number of people find work in the time they were there. We had some senior citizens who had Social Security who were able to save up enough, rather than blowing their money on a hotel room, and move into housing,” Coffinbarger said. “So we had some success stories.”
According to center stats, 23 people reported moving into a more stable housing situation; 11 reported finding employment while staying at the center; three reported returning to school; and three said they began participating in drug-and-alcohol treatment (not counting Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous).
“We’re just trying to help people to survive. That’s why we’re here,” Coffinbarger said.
The warming center is one of several local shelters serving the county’s growing homeless population.
Helping Hands, a nonprofit that helps the local homeless population and provided overnight lodging for some of the warming center’s overflow, saw a roughly 60 percent increase in people needing services at their facility from 2015 to 2016, CEO Alan Evans said.
“We’re having a hard time keeping up with the demand of people needing assistance,” Evans said.
Though the Astoria Warming Center still relies on dozens of active volunteers — who put in a total of 2,620 volunteer hours, not including work outside hours of operation — the grant funding allowed the center to hire paid staff.
“Staffing a shelter nightly for 100 nights, all from volunteers, is not realistic, and we recognize that,” Coffinbarger said, “so we hired several people to come in and work those really challenging overnight hours.”
Meanwhile, Astoria Coffeehouse and Bistro and the North Coast Food Web donated cooked meals.
This year, the shelter added cots for most people, giving the room a military barracks look; in the first two years, people slept on foam pads on the floor.
“I think it’s really inspiring the way that the community came together to do this,” Coffinbarger said.
The warming center had planned to operate through mid-March, but state fire codes permit temporary shelters to operate no longer than 90 days straight within a 12-month period. Though the center secured a two-week extension, it closed two weeks earlier than anticipated.
Ron Maxted, a warming center volunteer and board member, said some neighbors have complained about the transients’ behavior outside the shelter; though it opens at 8 p.m., people start gathering around 6:30 p.m.
“Sometimes they’re loud, and boisterous,” and leave beer cans around, he said. Maxted said the shelter will work on addressing these issues.
The shelter accepts people who appear intoxicated, as long as they can enter without assistance. “The nature of our shelter being low-barrier is that we try to give everyone a chance,” Coffinbarger said.
But transients struggling with substance abuse make up a decreasing percentage at the shelter. The people who showed up included evicted families, patients discharged from hospitals and domestic-violence survivors.
“The face of homelessness is changing,” Evans said. “Years ago, it used to be the addicted and the broken and the mentally ill. And now that number’s completely changed: It’s more women and children. It’s more people who can’t afford to stay in an apartment because the rates of apartments have (gone) up.”
He added: “The problem’s going to get worse before it gets better. We can’t build affordable housing fast enough. It’s impossible.”
• Operated Nov. 15 through Feb. 28
• Total number of volunteer hours: 2,620 (This number represents volunteer hours to staff basic shelter coverage, including two weeks of all-volunteer staffing, and does not include volunteer hours related to organizational work or work outside of operating hours.)
• Men: 2,282
• Women: 844
• Average number served per night: 30
• Total number of people served (unduplicated count): 212
• Men: 148 (70 percent)
• Women: 64 (30 percent)
• Veterans: 23
• Age distribution of guests:
Children (under 18): 6 (3 percent)
Transition age youth (18-24): 12 (6 percent)
Adults age 25 to 54: 143 (67 percent)
Senior citizens (55 and over): 43 (20 percent)
Unknown: 8 (4 percent)
• Length of stay:
Average: 15 days
One week or less: 135 (64 percent)
One month (31 days) or less: 44 (21 percent)
Over one month (32 to 105 days): 33 (15 percent)
• Previous sleeping arrangement:
97 guests (46 percent) reported sleeping in places not meant for habitation prior to checking in at the warming center. Such places included vehicles, dugouts, tents and beneath bridges.
13 guests (6 percent) declined to divulge where they slept prior to the warming center.
102 guests (48 percent) reported sleeping in places intended for habitation, including other shelters, friends’ houses, motels and jail.
• Positive outcomes:
Housing: 23 guests reported moving into a more stable housing situation.
Employment: 11 reported finding employment while staying at the center.
School: 3 reported returning to school while staying at the center.
Drug/alcohol treatment: 3 reported they began participating in drug-and-alcohol treatment (not counting Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous) while staying at the center.