Lincoln City shelter closed as mercury drops

The warming shelter in Lincoln City remains closed.

LINCOLN CITY — An overnight warming shelter that met cold shoulders at city hall remains shuttered amid predictions of bitter weather over the approaching Thanksgiving holiday.

Following a meeting of its board of directors on Monday, the Lincoln City Warming Shelter announced it would not reopen until city officials make the next move.

“We can’t see any way for that without running the risk of enforcement action by the city,” stated the group’s president, Patrick Alexander, who uses government weather forecasts to calculate life-threatening temperatures. “The city council meets Nov. 26, and we came to the conclusion there needs to be a solution coming out of this meeting.”

Alexander said daytime temperatures have already dropped below the 40-degree threshold that would normally trigger shelter operations. During the winter of 2017-18, the warming shelter was opened for 49 nights when temperatures fell to near, or below, freezing. According to shelter figures, 649 “bed-nights” were provided.

“Homeless people are keen for us to be open at night,” Alexander said. “A lot of them are sleeping unsheltered and they ask staff when it will be open. When we say we don’t know, that we’re at the mercy of events outside our control, it adds to an already stressful situation for those folks.”

Negotiations to allow the shelter to continue at a former fire station in Taft where it has operated for two years collapsed in August when city planners determined the operation didn’t fit the zoning and there was no way to allow it under current law. Subsequently, the city council in September reduced shelter funding to $4,600, down from $45,000 in 2017.

Stinging criticism of the city followed at a council meeting where a dozen residents and homeless advocates called for action.

Afterwards, City Manager Ron Chandler and the city attorney, Richard Appicello, proposed two new ordinances, one that would allow the manager or city council to designate public or private property as a temporary emergency shelter and a companion ordinance to make it fit under state land use guidelines.

The first ordinance (Ord. 2018-14) passed 5-1 at the Oct. 22 meeting, with Diana Hinton concluding the edict was merely a stunt to allow the Warming Shelter to continue operating in the old fire hall, owned and remodeled by Mayor Don Williams. On a reconsideration vote, she changed her mind and the law passed unanimously.

The second ordinance (ZOA2018-06) was endorsed by the planning commission Nov. 6 and will likely be considered at the Nov. 26 city council meeting.

Critics of the new laws say the city’s response to the imminent cold-weather crisis is awkward, at best. Under the new rules, the council must first call a meeting and declare an emergency before authorizing a temporary location.

“They might be unavailable to issue an emergency in time for us to open on sub-40-degree nights, or they might choose another site entirely,” said Alexander. “Who knows?”

When city officials suggested Alexander use another abandoned fire hall where the zoning is appropriate, he found the site lacked running water, restrooms and insulation.

“The idea of calling an emergency meeting is reprehensible to me while people are sleeping in the cold,” commented Mayor Don Williams, who said his former Taft fire station remains the best option for a homeless shelter. “The building meets every requirement needed for this. I don’t know what else we could ask for, but I can’t argue that from the dais.”

According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, about 700 displaced people in the U.S. died last year from hypothermia.

“Put simply, these are people who have no other option,” concluded Alexander, who said about 40 percent of the shelter’s clients are local residents.

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