Cold-weather shelter open this week

An emergency shelter will remain open through Thursday night in Ashland, shielding homeless residents from the biting cold.

Temperatures are expected to drop to 9 degrees tonight, and remain in the teens Wednesday night. Forecasts call for a Pacific storm to move over Ashland Thursday night, bringing slightly warmer temperatures and possibly snow.

Ashland residents — especially those without warm places to sleep — should take precautions when temperatures drop this low, said Sven Nelaimischskies, meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Medford office.

"For overnight, I would suggest if they're homeless, find a shelter. Don't try to stay out overnight, even if you've got a good sleeping bag," he said. "We're not really used to these kinds of conditions around here."

Anyone who needs a warm place to sleep can check into the "no frills" shelter at First Presbyterian Church of Ashland, on the corner of Siskiyou Boulevard and Walker Avenue, beginning at 8 p.m. tonight.

"Many folks do not have these skills or the tools to live outside and I really am concerned about them," said Ruth Coulthard, who helps organize the shelter openings. "People who are inexperienced at living outside are definitely in danger of killing themselves."

The cold-weather shelter has been open since Saturday night. Ten people stayed at the shelter that night and five the following night, Coulthard said.

"Right now there's a lot of people in transit and that's because of the weather," she said. "Populations that live outdoors or in very minimal shelter are moving through, coming and going."

Under Coulthard's leadership, volunteers have operated the shelter for the past four years.

Typically First Presbyterian Church, or another Ashland church, opens the shelter on nights when the low temperatures are forecasted at 20 degrees or below, but other factors such as wind-chill are also taken into consideration.

So far this week's spate of cold weather hasn't broken any records, Nelaimischskies said.

"We had a string in 1972 when we got down below zero," he said.

That year brought Ashland's record low: -6 degrees, he said.

The last time it was this cold in December was in 1998, when temperatures hovered around 9 degrees, Nelaimischskies said.

People who live in older homes or trailers should consider leaving their faucets dripping overnight to prevent their pipes from freezing, he said.

Residents should also remember to keep their pets in a sheltered, warm place, Nelaimischskies said.

"Keep them inside if you can," he said, "or you may come out to an unpleasant surprise in the morning."

The storm moving in late Thursday and early Friday could bring snow to the Valley floor and create hazardous driving conditions on the Siskiyou Pass, he said.

"If any snow does fall down in the Valley, it should stick," Nelaimischskies said. "The continued snowfall on the passes may cause travel difficulties through the weekend."

Shelter details:

People can call 552-2378, Ashland's Community Emergency Response Team hotline, to check if the shelter will be open. Notices are also placed at a few locations in town such as at Shop'n Kart and Evo's Coffee Lounge.

Shelter doors are locked at 9 p.m., after which people may leave, but not return the same night. The shelter closes during the day, so people must pack up by 8 a.m.

People planning to sleep at the church should bring their own bedding if they can. A limited number of sleeping bags are available to use. Shelter volunteers will lock up people's personal valuables overnight and people will sleep on the floor in a large multipurpose room.

Shelter organizers are requesting donations from community members in order to purchase more $26 cold-weather sleeping bags to give to people who stay at the shelter.

"For every $26, we can keep somebody warm all winter," Coulthard said.

Donations can be sent to First Congregational United Church of Christ, 717 Siskiyou Blvd.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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