With the first day of winter officially less than a week away, it is only a matter of time before temperatures start dipping toward freezing. With that in mind, the Roseburg City Council on Monday eased the restrictions placed on severe weather shelters in an effort to give the homeless somewhere to go to get out of the cold.
The easing of the restrictions was intended, at least initially, to allow the Roseburg Dream Center to open its doors during freezing weather and take in the homeless. The organization, which provides services to the poor, including many who are homeless, moved this summer from downtown Roseburg to a new location at 2555 NE Diamond Lake Blvd.
That location does not have an inside sprinkler system, which means under the current code it could not be used as a severe weather shelter. The Dream Center was the only such shelter in Roseburg, city officials said.
The new rules waive the requirement for a sprinkler system — which city officials said could be too costly for many organizations — and streamline the permitting process that is in place for full-time shelters.
Tim Edmondson, director of the Roseburg Dream Center, submitted a letter to the City Council in support of the eased restrictions. In the letter, Edmondson said the temperature has already dropped below freezing a few times this year and he worries about people left out in the cold.
“Neglecting to address this problem is nothing short of inhumane,” Edmondson wrote.
The Roseburg Dream Center had been operating from the basement of Foundation Fellowship, at 813 SE Lane Ave., for about four years. That property also did not have an indoor sprinkler system, but city officials apparently never made an issue of it when it came to the building’s use as a severe weather shelter.
Edmondson, in his letter to the city, said he never knew he needed sprinklers for the severe weather shelter at the old location.
With current COVID-19 restrictions in place, an emergency shelter at the new Dream Center location could accommodate up to 25 people during freezing weather. A January survey found 845 people in the county who were identified as homeless, including 183 under the age of 18.
The new rules regarding cold weather shelters were fast-tracked in order to get something in place before the weather turned cold. In order to open as a severe weather shelter, a site plan review is required. If approved, the permit will be good for 12 months, and a site can only be used for a severe weather shelter for a maximum of 90 days per year.
A ‘BABY STEP’Severe weather shelters will only be allowed to open during severe weather conditions, namely when the temperature dips below freezing or above 102 degrees, or when the air quality index value reaches 201 or higher. The mayor or city manager could also declare a severe weather event if they deem it necessary.
The new regulations also require severe weather shelters to be inspected and approved by the fire department before they can open.
Those regulations also require a fire watch be maintained during sleeping hours if the building does not have sprinklers; that entails at least one person to remain awake overnight and keep watch for possible fires.
Other basic fire safety measures are also required, including the creation of an emergency evacuation plan, the installation of smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, and identified emergency exits.
So far, the Dream Center is the only organization that has expressed an interest in operating a severe weather shelter, said Roseburg Community Development Director Stuart Cowie. But with the eased regulations, that might change.
“I’m very excited to see this, it’s another baby step,” City Councilor Brian Prawitz said. “This actually will now … allow other organizations to open a warming center if they want to.”
Monday’s vote on severe weather shelters is among several recent steps the City Council has taken to address issues surrounding the homeless.
Last month, the council approved a program that will let a limited number of people sleep overnight in their cars. The so-called vehicle camping program will allow up to six vehicles to stay in a maximum of three approved locations in the city, from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Each site will have restrooms and trash cans and be monitored during vehicle camping hours by someone associated with the property.
The City Council on Monday also approved the creation of a homeless commission. The Commission will consist of seven members, including the chair, who will be Mayor Larry Rich. Four members shall be representatives from Adapt, United Community Action Network, Aviva Health, and Umpqua Health Alliance. Two members will be at-large.
Its stated purpose will be to “research, gather information and explore options in order to make recommendations to the City Council addressing the needs of the unhoused.”