Despite concerns that it could jeopardize students, a church-sponsored severe weather shelter opened for the first time Wednesday night with no reported problems, organizers and Longview school officials reported Thursday.
“We’re very encouraged by how the first night went,” said Liz Kearny, pastor of Longview Presbyterian Church. “We provided a safe shelter where folks were well served, and we believe the community was made safer because of the operation.”
The city-licensed shelter, located at First Christian Church across 20th Avenue from Kessler Elementary School, is sponsored by Kelso-Longview Ministerial Association and Love Overwhelming. It is one of two weather emergency shelters operating in the city this week.
The City of Longview declared a severe weather event Wednesday because temperatures were forecast to be at or below 32 degrees for the next couple days. The new shelter operates again from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Thursday and Friday nights.
Chuck Hendrickson, LO executive director, said 54 people stayed at the First Christian shelter Wednesday night.
LO staff and shelter volunteers swept the neighborhood several times and walked people to the shelter entrance, he said. They also picked up garbage in the area.
First Christian Church has installed temporary privacy fencing, bright safety lights and security cameras, according to a press release. And Columbia Security has added the church to its nightly route. A Columbia Security guard will be stationed between Kessler School and Kids World Preschool on mornings when the shelter is open.
Hendrickson said the measures allowed shelter residents to enter and exit away from Kessler Elementary and an adjoining preschool.
Longview School District contracted with Columbia Security to patrol around Kessler Elementary from 2:45 to 5:45 p.m. and 6:45 to 8:45 a.m. Rick Parrish, district spokesman, said he was not aware of any complaints as of Wednesday morning.
Parents were “appreciative” that the school district hired Columbia Security, Parrish said. The district plans to have security in place through Friday evening. Parrish said the district will talk to parents and Kessler staff to decide if it should contract with Columbia Security the next time the shelter opens, but the district “will continue to err on the side of student and staff safety.”
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Karri Gallagher, owner of Kids World, said in an email that parents were pleased with additional safety measures at the preschool, including fencing on the property, morning security sweeps, locking down the building following shelter nights and monitoring security cameras.
Shelter organizers also set up a phone line for residents to report any incidents which may occur. The number is 360-749-8056 extension 123. Hendrickson said he only knew of two calls that came in on Wednesday night.
Religious leaders created the shelter partly in response to calls from the community for churches to help the chronically homeless and last winter’s complaints about LO’s emergency shelter on 14th Avenue. St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Longview runs one for youth and families with children.
LO still is licensed to operate an emergency shelter but for now is choosing to assist the First Christian shelter instead.
Earlier this month, Community House on Broadway announced it will extend hours at its CORE Health Social Support Center to provide a place for shelter residents during the day. Staff and volunteers took about 23 people to the support center Thursday morning, said Frank Morrison, Community House executive director.
Although the First Christian shelter will close at 7 a.m. Saturday, organizers anticipate opening up again next week because overnight temperatures are expected to drop into the 20s, and the lowlands may get a snow/rainfall mix.
Hendrickson said the biggest need for volunteers is for the 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. shifts.
Anyone who wants to volunteer at the shelter can contact Kayce Settlemier at 360-749-8056, ext. 116 or emailing email@example.com.
Those who want to donate to the shelter can contact Shawn Nyman by calling 360-270-5096 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.