As the temperatures drop below freezing and snow accumulates, local shelters are starting to see an increase in homeless people looking for a warm place to spend the night.
Bethlehem Inn and The Shepherd’s House each provide semi-permanent housing for the homeless community, but also provide a night or two of respite for those looking to escape the frigid temperatures.
Chris Clouart, manager at Bethlehem Inn, said once temperatures start to dip, the city of Bend will declare a winter weather proclamation, which happened last week. At that point, the shelter will allow short-term stays, which he said generally last a night. Local churches can also allow the homeless to stay a night, but only after the two shelters are filled to capacity, which rarely happens, Clouart said.
The cold weather creates leniency when it comes to city codes: Churches normally can’t accept the homeless because that would violate fire codes, Clouart said.
Bethlehem Inn has space for about 85 residents, though most are staying on a long-term basis. Clouart said once those beds are filled, two men’s lounges can hold about eight people combined. There is also a women’s lounge, which can house four women or a family.
If the lounges fill up, Clouart said he will put mats down on the kitchen floor, providing beds for about 12 more people. In his 10 years on the job, he said the kitchen only had to be opened up once.
“What you find here in Central Oregon is people are fairly resilient in many ways,” he said, adding that oftentimes people will pool money for a motel room, or plan ahead to stock their campsite with firewood.
John Lodise, community support manager for The Shepherd’s House, said the shelter provides temporary housing for as many as 20 people in the winter months. He said the shelter provides a seven-day stay that many of the temporary guests take advantage of.
The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory that was in effect until 3 p.m. Tuesday. Forecasts have the cold weather sticking around over the next few days, with today’s high at 26 degrees and a low of 19. Thursday and Friday are expected to be warmer, with highs above freezing, according to the weather service.
Clouart said anyone looking to stay the night needs to go through a brief intake interview, fill out some basic paperwork and take a breath test.
“If they are too high or too drunk they can’t come in,” he said. The same rules apply at The Shepherd’s House.
Clouart said multiple people have come in every night for the past week. On Monday night the shelter housed 87 people, including long-term residents.
Bethlehem Inn and The Shepherd’s House have staff working at night, and can bring in guests in the coldest hours.
“We don’t want anyone to suffer,” he said.
Clouart said oftentimes people will stop by to get a meal or pick up a winter coat, but often forgo staying the night.
“It all depends on how much networking they can do,” he said. “I think we are near the bottom on most people’s list.”