Warming station open with COVID-19 restrictions

By Wil Phinney of the CUJ

MISSION – As temperatures dip below 36 degrees, homeless people on the Umatilla Indian Reservation will have a place to go again this winter when the Warming Station opens in November under new management.

The Cmuytp’ama Warming Station will soon be open from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. for up to seven adults, but will be able to accommodate perhaps twice that many once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

The Warming Station opened in November of 2019 with the mission of providing homeless adults with warm and safe overnight accommodations in a “quiet and welcoming atmosphere” when the potential for hypothermia was elevated.

Transfer of oversight of the Warming Station from Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center to the Confederated Tribes’ Department of Children and Family Services was finalized in August of 2020.

According to the Warming Station Master Plan presented to the CTUIR Board of Trustees, Cmuytp’ama “fills a demonstrated need for safe spaces where the journey to personal safety and improved health and living conditions can begin.”

Toward that goal, DCFS staff want the Warming Station to function as a safe space where, with appropriate resources and personnel, comprehensive wrap-around service to tribal adults could be provided with the following:
• Limited daily shelter for homeless individuals
• Safe space for victims of domestic violence
• Clean space to quarantine or isolate
• Basic sustenance
• Clean water
• Basic hygiene supplies
• Washing machines and dryers
• Technology for resources and/or educational needs

The “streamlined access” to the various programs and supports offered by DCFS for individuals at the Warming Station would include Workforce Development to promote self-efficacy and self-sustainability, childcare assistance to ensure safe childcare while parents/caregivers attend work or school, and other programs they might qualify for such as General or Emergency Assistance. DCFS will also work with other internal programs like Housing, Public Works and Human Resources, and outside programs like the Community Action Program of East Central Oregon (CAPECO) to provide appropriate referrals or access to supporting services.

CAPECO serves Umatilla, Morrow, Gilliam, Wheeler, Sherman, Wasco, and Hood River counties. According to its mission statement, CAPECO assists people to become independent, healthy and safe. CAPECO envisions the success of every youth, adult and senior to eliminate poverty and promote independence through education, employment, and the sharing of resources that move individuals from surviving to thriving, the mission statement reads.

Families in need may be referred to accommodating motels, using a different pot of funding from the Oregon Health Authority, as well as to CAPECO, according to Elliott.

Last year Cmuytp’ama served an average of three people per night, and also served as an area of shelter and respite for families affected by the spring floods, according to Kathleen Elliott, Workforce Development Officer at DCFS.

The Warming Station will include two rooms for men and one room for women, plus a fourth room in case someone needs to be quarantined because of illness.

The Board of Trustees in October allocated $74,000 to be used over two years to pay for upkeep and maintenance of the building, plus utilities and water, and the salaries for a full-time coordinator and a part-time outreach specialist. The Warming Station will be relying on volunteers to help every night. Volunteers are encouraged to call Elliott or Jamie Crane, Office Manager at DCFS, at 541-429-7300.

Part of the money will also be used to help furnish the facility with everything from washers and dryers to cots and bedding. No donations of clothing or blankets are needed with the exception of scarves, mittens, hats, gloves and winter socks, Elliott said.

The facility includes a full kitchen with a living room equipped with a sofa and chairs, plus a TV for watching DVD movies.

Clients will be offered dinner and breakfast, and if it stays below freezing during the day or if there is a lot of snow on the ground the Warming Station may stay open longer and offer a third meal.

The Warming Station is going to be open to tribal members 18 and older who are Yellowhawk eligible, male or female, who will live in separate quarters – even if they are a couple.

A curfew of 10 p.m. will be strictly enforced. Anyone who leaves the building after that won’t be allowed to return, Elliott said.
Clients will leave their backpacks in a secure area. The backpacks won’t be searched, but the Warming Station is to be alcohol and drug free.

Male and female volunteers are needed for overnight stays. The majority of the clients will be males and on nights when there are no female visitors, the female volunteer would go home.

The full-time coordinator likely will work from 2-10 p.m. with duties, among other things, being daily laundry and building sanitation. If the Warming Station is short on volunteers, the outreach specialist assistant may have to work the overnight shift from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Last winter, the Warming Station closed at 8 a.m. and many clients moved over to the Senior Center where they stayed all day to keep warm. But the Senior Center is closed because of COVID, which may prompt longer hours, even 24/7 if necessary, for the Warming Station, Elliott said.

The biggest challenge, said Taylor, is finding volunteers to stay the night, noting that weekday volunteers will be more difficult to line up than those on weekends.

Additionally, COVID-19 will prove challenging, Taylor said.

Yellowhawk is providing an infrared thermometer to measure temperatures as individuals enter the building, but if someone has a fever or symptoms they will be quarantined in the spare bedroom or they will be sent to a hotel in Pendleton designated for COVID quarantine.

The Warming Station will maintain all COVID protocols with Yellowhawk providing personal protection equipment (PPE), face masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves for workers, volunteers and residents. Masks will be mandatory.