As winter draws closer and temperatures begin to plunge at night, the Warming Center at the Foundation Fellowship Church Dream Center in Roseburg prepares to open for the season.

This year, it will be the only nighttime warming center for homeless people in town. Earlier this summer, the Umpqua Valley Warming Center at the Faith Lutheran Church announced that a lack of volunteers and a manager vacancy would prevent it from opening.

The prospect of being the only warming center in town this winter has prompted officials with the Fellowship Warming Center to expand their services. Officials are asking the community to volunteer and help with donations as local outreach organizations report that the number of homeless people in Roseburg has grown this year. The Warming Center also faces the challenge of recovering from a water main break, which flooded the Dream Center in October, and pushing back against the against the perception that their services enable homelessness.

The Warming Center opens when at least three major weather sources forecast temperatures 30 degrees and below or 32 degrees with snow. The doors open at 7 p.m. and volunteers begin serving dinner. People who stay the night can also have breakfast in the morning. All the food is donated.

The center is also a food pantry open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. It processes 6,000 pounds of food each month. Volunteers go out into the community on the first and third Saturday of each month and offer people on the street lunches, clothing, hygiene kits, rain gear and tents. Additionally, the center serves as a clothes bank.

This year, the Dream Center has a new executive director, Tim Edmondson. After coming to the church for the first time a few months ago, Edmondson decided to volunteer and serve food one evening.

“It was such an amazing experience,” Edmondson said.

Shortly after, he saw that the former executive director was leaving.

“I was going, ‘Wow, that would be an awesome job, I can do that,’” Edmondson said. “For my whole life I’ve always gone to work because I had to pay the bills. I finally got a job that I really love. When I get up in the morning I can’t wait to go.”

Edmondson said first experiences serving food to people at the Dream Center made an impact on him.

“When you’re there face to face with them, you find out that they’re really not what you think,” He said. “They’re just people. They’re having a really bad time and they just need some love.”

In an effort to accommodate an expected increase in people coming to use the Warming Center, supervisor Christopher Hutton plans to place cots in the main congregation room and balcony of the church for the first time.

Last year, when the warming center at the Faith Lutheran Church was open, the Fellowship Warming Center had 45 people stay overnight the 15 nights they were open. This year, Hutton is expecting 70 to 100 people each night.

In the past, the Warming Center has needed a total of 18 volunteers each night to help set up, clean up, cook meals and monitor the sleeping area. Hutton said he will need an extra six volunteers each night if the Warming Center expands into the other church areas.

“It takes a lot of work and a lot of dedication,” Hutton said. “Most of the people who volunteer also have busy jobs. Some people who want to be here can’t because they’re working.”

Hutton works in commercial IT services during the day, but he’s at the Warming Center every night it’s open.

“A lot of our best volunteers were homeless at one time too,” he said.

As the service expands to other areas of the church, he expects the cost of heating the Warming Center to rise. It cost $100 each night to heat the Warming Center in previous years when it was only in the basement of the church.

Hutton points to the 30-40 loads of bedding laundry that volunteers do following each night as a testament to the scale of the service. And evidence that the center needs all the volunteers and donations it can get to ensure that it will be able to open when it’s below freezing outside.

He said the Warming Center has never had to turn anyone away because it reached capacity since it opened in 2010, even though the number of people they serve has grown each year.

Less than a week away from the typical start of the season, Nov. 15, Hutton and other volunteers are still working to clean up the damaged caused by the water main break in the church a month ago. Carpeting in the Warming Center was ripped up, dry wall was repaired and the bathroom is not ready yet. But Hutton is confident the Warming Center will be ready to open by Nov. 15 or shortly after if the weather warrants it.

These challenges are compounded by the belief held by some city officials that the services the Dream Center provides enable homelessness.

“We haven’t had anyone be against the Warming Center per se,” Hutton said. “The Dream Center as a whole, yes. In people’s eyes, we are enabling them because we give them food, because we give them clothing.”

Edmondson said he recently met with city officials and law enforcement to create more open lines of communication. They discussed how the Dream Center can help prevent people littering trash from the meals they receive around town. They also talked about how law enforcement can give volunteers a greater sense of security when the Warming Center is open, Edmondson said.

“If we as a city keep turning our back and ignoring the problem and act like it will just go away, it won’t,” Edmondson said.

He said he sees the underlying causes that lead to homelessness such as drug use and mental illness first hand.

“Until we address these problems head on as a community, they aren’t going away,” he said.

Max Egener can be reached at megener@nrtoday.com and 541-957-4217. Or follow him on Twitter @maxegener.

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City Reporter

Max Egener is the city reporter for The News-Review. He has a master's degree from the University of Oregon, and is an avid skier and backpacker.

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