With freezing temperatures sometimes dropping below zero in Corvallis at night, it’s easy for most to warm up with winter clothes, a nice fireplace and even a cozy bed at their home.
But not everyone has that luxury.
Now, a new women’s winter shelter is helping to warm up one of the most vulnerable populations in Corvallis – homeless women.
“We knew previous shelter locations had not been very accessible, and we felt called to help out some of our most vulnerable neighbors,” says Volunteer Shelter Manager Sara Power. “Everyone deserves a safe and warm place to sleep, and since the building is accessible and has showers on site, it seemed like a perfect place for a shelter. Many long-time church members are happy to see the community center being used in this way to serve the community.”
Room at the Inn is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and includes 12 beds, showers, warm clothes, coffee, snacks and some entertainment. So far, it’s served at least 12 different women ranging in age from 20 to 60 years old, including a group of about eight who have stayed most nights.
“The women are very happy to be in a warm, safe place,” Sara says. “One night, one woman came in after she had run out of propane in her tent, and it was very cold outside.”
Although the church supplies the room, utilities, insurance and some money, there was still a strong need for funding to support two overnight paid positions.
That’s where four College of Public Health and Human Sciences (CPHHS) graduate students stepped in.
“It’s been very cold, and I know that we have literally saved lives.”
Cara Ashworth, Bethany Harmon, Terese Jones and Joy Lile responded to a request asking for help opening the winter women’s shelter.
“I have worked with homeless shelter programs as an AmeriCorps member, and I was really impressed at how much they can often do with very little,” says Joy, Human Development and Family Studies graduate student. “I wanted to help them get off the ground and achieve their vision for helping the local community.”
“It was clear many others who came to the meeting were able to cover most of the needs of the shelter, but had little interest in writing grants,” says Bethany, another HDFS graduate student. “As students, we understand the importance of developing grant writing skills, and we had all worked with shelters in previous jobs and understood the necessity of applying for outside funding, so we offered to help.”
They used skills learned in CPHHS courses and together successfully secured two grants totaling more than $15,000 to support the shelter.
“These women are intelligent, experienced and committed,” says First United Methodist Pastor Jim Philipson, who chairs the board for the Room at the Inn. “We couldn’t have succeeded without them and the energy they have brought to our work. I feel so fortunate and grateful to know people like this who are working to change the world.”
“Many other committee members spent time getting the shelter ready physically, acquiring extra beds, getting city permits and inspections, etc.,” Sara says. “We could not have written grants as well. The students did an amazing job and have such valuable insight and experiences to add to how we have set up the shelter and how we can evaluate what we are doing.”
“I am happy to be part of this great community effort. I see this as a public safety and health issue.”
The two grants, $11,540 from the Meyer Memorial Trust and $4,000 from the Spirit Mountain Community Fund of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, will help pay for two overnight staff members whose jobs are to stay awake in case of an emergency and to help with cleaning and preparation in the mornings.
“With the grants, we know that we have enough to get through this whole season,” Sara says. “We’re thankful, surprised, thrilled and so very proud of the students’ excellent work, dedication and commitment.”
“I remember how difficult it is to get – and keep – programs running and thought that it would be a good opportunity to use skills that I’m building at OSU to benefit the community – especially when many of these women have stated that if they can’t stay at the shelter, they have nowhere to stay at night except out in the cold weather,” Bethany says.
“I am happy to be part of this great community effort, and it’s nice to see that there are already a number of women who are using the shelter’s services and finding permanent housing because of connections made there,” Joy says. “I see this as a public safety and health issue. It is important for individuals to feel a sense of safety, which for single women may be difficult to find on the streets. Also, providing a warm place to sleep begins to meet their needs for shelter and prevent illness.”
“Certainly, a warm, dry and safe place to sleep is one of those most basic needs,” she says. “We have many student volunteers – mostly from HDFS – and they have been great in interacting with our shelter guests, several of whom are in their 20s. We also have folks who provide snacks for each evening and are bringing warmth to these neighbors in that way. Other groups and individuals have brought coats, towels and other items that we need.”
Sometimes, it’s the less tangible things that can warm a person’s heart.
“Poverty can seem like an abstract issue when you are warm and well fed each night,” Pastor Jim says. “Coming to the shelter and hearing the stories of the women replaces fear with friendships, and fuels passion to address the problems that leave too many people on the street. We hope that the guests in the shelter feel less alone. Meeting each other in a safe environment like the shelter can change lives.”
Donations including food, beverages, cleaning supplies and services, laundry supplies, etc. are always welcome. Checks can be sent to the church with a note that they are for the “Room at the Inn.” Interested volunteers can sign up through this website.