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C.O. warming shelters prep for major changes, challenges amid pandemic

(Update: adding video, comments from NeighborImpact)

Increased screening practices, spacing beds six feet apart among new policies

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- With temperatures cooling down across Central Oregon, warming shelters are gearing up for what they expect will be very important fall and winter seasons. However, NeighborImpact told NewsChannel 21 Thursday shelters will face many challenges this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Molly Heiss, director of Housing & Stabilization Programs with NeighborImpact, said, "It is going to look a little different this year, but we're hoping that it's still an opportunity for people to feel warm and accepted and part of the community,” Heiss said.

The goal, she said, is simple -- and stark: "The ultimate goal is to keep people from freezing to death."

Heiss said NeighborImpact is working with Central Oregon warming shelters to come up with the best plan of action.

Ideally, each guest would have their own room, kind of like a motel. Heiss said it would cost more than $4 million to make that happen, though. NeighborImpact only has $700,00 to work with.

So the most realistic option is sticking with communal living spaces, but with several changes in place.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a few requirements for homeless service providers: Add barriers for check-in staff members when they're screening guests, add six feet of space between beds and have guests wear a mask when they are not in the shared sleeping area.

Heiss said some shelters might take it one step further, by making everyone wear the mask at all times.

"I don't know what that looks like when somebody's trying to sleep,” Heiss said. “That wouldn't be my favorite thing, and I doubt that it would be somebody else's favorite thing. But we can't have an outbreak. We have to do what we can to mitigate an outbreak."

In order to create all that space for social distancing, these shelters will have to limit how many people they can help.

In March, when the pandemic hit, Heiss said many of them cut capacity by 50 percent. She expects that number will be similar this season.

"We have to have that extra space,” she said. “It's the most inexpensive way to provide warming shelter."

Heiss said many Central Oregon shelters are still scrambling to solidify options for the upcoming season. Location and staffing issues are a common concern.

Heiss said the shelters rely heavily on volunteers, but those volunteers are typically older, and could be considered higher risk for the virus.

“It’s really unfortunate,” she said. “When you look at not having the volunteer base that we normally have, and you look at probably having less locations than not than a normal year, it’s just going to reduce our capacity which is really unfortunate.”

They hope to figure it a plan out soon, since the goal is to have their doors open in mid-November.

Bend / Central Oregon / Coronavirus / Top Stories

Max Goldwasser

Max Goldwasser is a reporter and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Max here.



    1. That’s not true. There are a lot of individuals, and companies that care.
      Neighbor impact is helping as well, but it is going to be a very different
      situation this winter because of the virus…
      There are more restrictions and guidelines in place that they have to deal with,
      and apparently it will have an impact on the number of available volunteers too…

    2. Take your whiny message to Salem- Kate Brown created this mess- more Oregonians in financial distress- out of work- schools closed… this is on her !

    1. Correct ! The Wuhan Bat Virus from China seems to be a rich mans disease- just check the OHA data for how many deaths in Oregon are “in” nursing homes- long term care facilities- and especially hospitals ! I said it before- many of these corona victims seem to be picking up the virus in these buildings- places that should be clean- sterile- and disinfected daily…. obviously they are not- as it appears a homeless camp- with a warming fire in a barrel- is safer ! I wonder what the director at the St would have to say about this.

      1. Ha…Rich person’s disease… is that why the Latinx population has a high rate of testing positive. 22% in Oregon. Of course I’m sure you’ll come up with some snarky and negative comment about people of color.

        Adios Mr.BGHW. happy ranting.

    2. thats because covid hit after it warmed up. when it gets cold they huddle up closer, thats when it will go through the homeless pop. also if you remember correctly, covid outbreaks weren’t bad in china the first year. it was the 2nd year it went around that hit china hard

      1. Wrong, try again. The first laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States was confirmed on January 20, 2020, and reported to CDC on January 22, 2020

  1. i’ve mentioned it before, the national guard armory’s would be a good spot to set up shelters. what i’m hearing is they got the same limited spaces as last year but will only be able to house a fraction of the needy, combined with a dried up elderly volunteer base. that is what we have a national guard for, domestic emergencies and crisis’s. they got enough space, beds, bedding, laundry facilities, medical, kitchens, showers, toilets, paid volunteers to care for an army. they got/can get military surplus cold weather tents, gear, enough land to set up emergency camps for those with pets. all someone would have to do is stop by talk to the Sgt. on duty and they’ll send it up through the chain of command for permissions and logistics support.

  2. who cares what the Cdc or st. charles recommends.. Damn the rules.. die due to frost bite or die due to covid.. I’d much rather take my chances and get sick with covid then to die frost bite.. Stupid social distancing rules.. homeless are **** out of luck by the sounds of it with social distancing and less people in the shelters.. per stupid covid laws.

  3. Not to be cold hearted but wouldn’t another option be to offer these people transportation to a warmer area? It would seem that some may opt for assistance in moving out of the cold region if there was some minimal one-time financial assistance and the ability to take their belongings and pets. The cost of chartering busses and trailers is not expensive. It wouldn’t work for everyone but it would be an interesting option to offer.

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