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Kayla, left, Hezekia, and Phoenix, all who declined to give their last names, enjoy games and conversation in Ashland's emergency cooling shelter, Monday at the United Methodist Church. (Photo by Denise Baratta)

Cooling center open again Tuesday

Emergency cooling shelters have been provided for those that can’t escape the excessive heat. The shelter is open from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the First United Methodist Church at 175 N. Main St. The high is projected to be 101 degrees.

Volunteers from Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland (OHRA), the Ashland Community Resource Center and affiliated organizations are staffing the shelter and trying to provide what food and water they can for attendees.

Vanessa Houk, organizer of Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice and a volunteer, said her organization is partnering with OHRA to staff the cooling shelters. She said food and water donations are greatly appreciated because their resources are limited for these emergency shelters.

“This is really a lifesaving resource because I do know that in Redding, last year or the year before, we had a couple of deaths of homeless people due to exposure in the summer time,” Houk said. “And so, whatever we can do to prevent that from happening here, we will certainly keep trying to do that.”

There are not cooking facilities during this time at the church, so bottled water and juices (chilled if possible), Popsicles for the children, sandwiches, cold fruit, ready to eat protein, even pizza to be delivered to the church would be immensely helpful, Houk said. However, the church may not be the next cooling shelter location, so for donations, leads on possible locations to use for the next time or questions about volunteering, contact organizer Jason Houk at 541-841-8341.

“Right now, it’s (the cooling shelter) just through (today, July 16), but we’ll be watching the weather and we’ll be ready to react if there are any more extreme temperature situations,” Houk said.

Adam Hanks, interim city administrator, said the city intends to provide cooling shelters in any case of extreme temperatures for a period of two to four or more days, if possible. If extreme heat and smoke are present at the same time, Hanks said the city will do what it can to provide a cooling shelter as well as resources such as face masks for those in need, but that the smoke makes having an appropriate shelter problematic.

“The challenge here is that there are few publicly available buildings that have the filters and the HVAC systems to really be a smoke respite,” Hanks said. “If we have extreme smoke like we did last year, it will be a challenge to find an appropriate site, but what we can do is have a cooling center and information available for how best to protect yourself against the smoke.”

The church has a capacity of 200 people in Wesley Hall, volunteer Phil Johncock said. The hall is the designated home of Uncle Food’s Diner, but for now it’s also a cooling shelter. Each Tuesday afternoon, Uncle Food’s feeds the homeless and hungry in Ashland, so the room may reach its capacity quickly.

Leigh Madsen, executive director of the Ashland Community Resource Center and member of the Methodist Congregation, unlocked the doors to the hall Monday at noon to the applause of a line of people outside, most of whom knew him on a first name basis.

He said OHRA has a contract with the city to operate emergency winter shelters and was contacted by the city to initiate summer shelters based off of the premise of getting people out of extreme weather.

“The city contacted OHRA to operate this because we have the volunteer base and the knowledge for how to do it,” Madsen said.

Hanks said the city will supply the venue to be used when necessary. Pioneer Hall and the Community Center were used over the weekend, but the center was rented out this week, so the church volunteered their site for the remaining two days of the heat wave.

“People that are not able to find a cooler spot are really susceptible and that’s the goal overall, for members of our community that are susceptible … we try and find a solution for,” Hanks said. “It may not be a complete solution, but what we look for is what can we do to help mitigate the extreme concern of heat stroke, heat exhaustion and other concerns for people who are outside most of the time.”

If a cooling shelter is needed again this season, the city will post on their website (www.ashland.or.us) and social media accounts (Facebook: www.facebook.com/CityofAshlandOregon).

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

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