Another season has wrapped up at the Men's Cold Weather Shelter in Corvallis: On Monday morning, the homeless men who had stayed there overnight were ushered out of the building in South Corvallis, and work got underway to clear out the building, the former Hanson Tire Factory at Highway 99 West and Southeast Chapman Place.
Typically, the men's shelter closes for the season on April 1, but it was decided to remain open on that night so that its occupants weren't turned loose on Sunday, a day when few if any services were available.
The 2017-18 season at the shelter ended in much the same way that the 2016-17 season did: With considerable uncertainty about where it would be located next November, when the mid-valley weather turns chilly and the rains begin to fall.
But before we spend any additional time on that topic — a sore point for Corvallis over the last few years — let's pause to express gratitude again to Devco Engineering, the owner of the building where the shelter was located this season. As you might recall, the search for this year's shelter location dragged on well into August before Devco answered the call.
The company had plans to renovate the building and to put some of its employees into the space but put those plans on hold for a year. It also made the building available for free, which helped stretch the budget for the shelter considerably. Devco's contribution this season was absolutely critical to what turned out to be, by all appearances, a successful year at the shelter. (Devco's contribution continues, in that the company has allowed the shelter's organizers to use part of the building for storage.)
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Corvallis served as the nonprofit operating entity for the shelter, providing liability insurance and employing the shelter's staff. Many other volunteers stepped forward to tackle the work that needed to be done before the building could open as a shelter. (As it turned out, because the search for a building stretched on for so long, the shelter was not able to open on Nov. 1, the traditional start of its season.)
By the end of the season, the shelter had drawn more than 1,300 volunteer shifts, totaling nearly 5,000 volunteer hours. Those volunteers operated the shelter every night for more than 150 days. Everyone who helped add to those totals deserves thanks as well.
Those volunteer numbers back up Shawn Collins, program manager for the Housing Opportunities Action Council, when he says: "To those who think Corvallis doesn't care about its homeless people, that just isn't true."
And yet: Collins and the Housing Opportunities Action Council (which operates the shelter) are now hard at work, grappling with the same basic question that took up so much time last year: Where will the shelter be located?
At this point, as Collins noted this week, the focus needs to be on identifying a permanent solution, a location that will work for years to come. Imagine what the Homeless Opportunities Action Council could do with the time it didn't have to spend each year searching for yet another location: For starters, the shelter and its volunteer staff could spend much more time focusing on providing services and programming: "I want to get out of answering where are we going to do it and onto how we can do it better," Collins told a Gazette-Times reporter this week.
Collins also suggested that Corvallis residents might be coming to grips with the idea that not paying any attention to homelessness will make the problem go away.
We'd like to think that's true. Finding a permanent location for the men's shelter and starting to improve the services it can offer to its clients would go a long ways toward proving the point. (mm)