In From the Cold

Hermiston community pitches in to use former Sears building as daytime warming shelter throughout January

By ERICK PETERSON East Oregonian Jan 29, 2022 Updated Jan 31, 2022

HERMISTON — Throughout January, area businesses, government and private citizens came together to fill a need in their community. Thanks to their efforts, homeless people received shelter during hours when there was not another place for them to go.

They recognized a need exists that had not been covered by the Hermiston Warming Station, which is open through the night. Guests check in at the little blue building at 1075 S. Highway 395 at 7:30 p.m., and they stay through the night. At 6:30 a.m., they have to leave.

Guests at the station express gratitude for the shelter and for the volunteers for their work. However, come closing time, they were out in the cold. This past winter, when temperatures dropped below freezing, existence became uncomfortable, they said.

Seeing this, multiple community-minded people stepped up to help to open and maintain a daytime warming shelter in Hermiston.

The warming shelter opened Jan. 3 at the former Sears building on Highway 395 in Hermiston. Cots, food and board games were available to people in need. At first, it was open during hours when the Hermiston Warming Station was closed. Some people traveled from one station to the other, avoiding the cold.

In recent weeks, the shelter has been open from 6:30 a.m. to noon, daily. Organizers said they lacked enough volunteers to keep it open all day. It is closing for good at the end of January.

Organizers reported 37 individuals stayed at the shelter during January, and many of them stayed multiple days.

Kris Barnum was among the people who helped make the shelter possible. She credited multiple people in the community for their work. Cathy Lloyd, of Stepping Stones, also thanked people for their help.

“We’ve really appreciated all of the people the volunteers who have given hours and the people who have donated supplies, food and drink,” Lloyd said. “And the cities who have come through with volunteers, they’ve been great. People have been very positive and helpful.”

Barnum and Lloyd said Mike Atkinson, of Atkinson Staffing, was important to the station’s existence because he provided the building. He was planning renovations for the structure, but had no other use for it during January. In addition, he offered electricity and supplies.

Others helped, too.

Umatilla and Hermiston city governments provided staffing during the early days of the daytime warming station. And the city of Umatilla covered the costs of cab service to the shelter.

The Hermiston Warming Station provided cots, Joe Sharon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent volunteers, local businesses and individuals sent food. This was a group effort, according to Lloyd.

“People were really good about stepping up,” she said.

Two people who stepped up recently were at the daytime warming station and spoke of their time there. Michelle Sanders and Lua Seteni both were volunteers. Ready to provide for needy people, they sat at tables that were filled with food and supplies.

“I have a friend who does it, and they said they didn’t have enough people,” Sanders said.

This being the case, she decided she would help. A member of the LDS Church, she said she is responsible to assist other people.

Seteni said she also is a member of the church, and she said she feels aiding others is something she should do.

“It means a lot,” she said, “to serve other people.”