Ashland volunteers will open an emergency shelter today to provide a heated place to sleep for those stuck in the cold, as forecasts call for temperatures to dip to about 25 degrees, and feel about 10 degrees colder due to wind chill.
"When it gets to be 20 degrees and below in our location, the relative experience for us, temperature-wise, is a little bit frightening. It feels extreme. It feels life-threatening," said Ruth Coulthard, one of the shelter organizers.
Anyone who needs a warm place to sleep can check into the "no frills" shelter, at Ashland First Congregational United Church of Christ, 717 Siskiyou Blvd., beginning at 8 p.m. tonight.
The shelter may open for additional nights, depending on weather, at First Presbyterian Church of Ashland, on the corner of Siskiyou Boulevard and Walker Avenue.
This is the third year a group of churches — First Congregational United Church of Christ, First Presbyterian Church and Unitarian Universalist Fellowship — and CERT volunteers have banded together to provide a cold-weather shelter for the homeless and others without a warm place to sleep.
"We see this as a way to reach out to our neighbors and those in need and are grateful for the opportunity (to provide a shelter)," Barbie Breneiser, one of the shelter organizers and a member of First Presbyterian Church.
Last winter the shelter was open for 16 nights and served a total of 22 people. Typically First Presbyterian Church — unless an event is planned at the building — opens on nights when temperature are forecasted to fall to 20 degrees or below, but other factors such as wind-chill are also taken into consideration, Coulthard said.
Ashlanders can call 552-2378, the Community Emergency Response Team hotline, to check if the shelter will be open. Notices will also be placed at a few locations in town such as 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 7:30 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.
The Women's Resource Center at Southern Oregon University is collecting sleeping bags that will be donated to the shelter. The group is trying to collect at least 30 sleeping bags that can be new or used, as long as they are clean.
"I think it's about being compassionate to people and this is a simple way to express our compassion for the women and men in our community who don't have a warm place to be," said Deltra Ferguson, the center's coordinator, who is organizing the sleeping bag drive.
Staff writer Hannah Guzik can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.