NEWPORT — A year ago, Tammy Brant was coming to the Lincoln County Emergency Warming Shelter in Newport as a guest. Now, she runs the place.
“I’ve been homeless on-and-off myself — between couchsurfing, living in a tent, living in a vehicle — for 12 years,” said Brant.
She knows all about the dangerously cold nights that face the area’s homeless population — many of whom have been heading to the warmth the shelter provides. That demand will continue in the coming weeks, especially as the weather gets colder — a dip in temperature is forecasted for this week, in particular.
Though clear skies are a beautiful sight on the Oregon Coast, in the winter that can mean a serious drop in temperature — the cloud cover normally traps heat. And with days of cold and clear forecasts ahead, it’s a dangerous time to be sleeping outdoors.
The warming shelter opens its doors on nights when the temperature is expected to drop to 32 degrees in dry or windy conditions, and 38 degrees in wet conditions. It opened for the first time this winter on Dec. 2, and continued through last night. Its first two nights open, the shelter has had 30 guests stay each night, though Flowers said that once there’s been time for word to spread, they’ve averaged 50 guests a night in previous years.
As similar weather conditions continue, organizers expect the warming shelter will continue to operate, but they will need approval from the county first — as the fairgrounds building used for the warming shelter is owned by the county.
The shelter can mean the difference between a cold death and a second chance, as Brant can attest.
“Now she’s inside, and she’s working. And she’s doing this as a volunteer. It’s a huge success story,” said Traci Flowers, who previously headed up the warming shelter and currently runs Grace Wins Haven, a day shelter for the homeless — where Brant also volunteers.
The women explained that the two shelters were a key part of Brant’s story to get back into a home.
“The stability Tammy received through the day shelter, and the warming shelter last winter, brought her to a point where now she can be the one in charge of the warming shelter, with us just guiding her,” explained Flowers.
That stability was integral in her story, the reason Brant came back was something even more heartwarming.
“It’s not just a shelter: it’s stability and a family,” said Brant. “A lot of these people, they don’t have families, and this is it, this is their family. And they watch out for each other, they fight, they bicker, they have their feuds and stuff — but at the end of the day, they’re still a family.”
Brant explained that she originates from Pennsylvania and, in her time living outside, she visited a number of shelters across the country. None, she said, cared the way the guests and volunteers at these two shelters care about each other — not to mention the immense community support that the warming shelter has received in its first few days of operation this winter.
“Being at Grace Wins during the day, it was a non stop flow of people bringing things. It’s overwhelming,” Brant said, tears running down her cheeks. “It’s wonderful to see so many people care so much about people that most people don’t care about.”
Individuals across town have brought numerous items to the day shelter to donate — one person donated 30 dozen eggs. And local businesses have contributed, too; Cobblestone Pizza donated enough pizza to feed the whole shelter a couple slices for dinner on Dec. 3 and Le Maison contributed breakfast food for the next morning.
“They’re the unnoticed,” added Flowers. “And people are noticing them.”
But that momentum needs to continue to keep the shelters running. Because the shelters are both run entirely on donations, they are always in need of items: specifically, paper products and plasticware for guests to eat with, and drinks like juice, milk, coffee and cream. Other items that make a major difference for those in need include backpacks, tents, tarps and sleeping bags. As for volunteers, all help is welcome as the shelters are always in need of more hands — however, volunteers with a food handler’s card are highly requested.
For more details about the shelters’ needs, as well as information about how to donate or volunteer, contact Traci Flowers by email at [email protected] or by phone at 541-234-4639. After hours calls can be made to the shelter’s answering service at 541-265-1974 which will patch calls to Flowers’s cell.