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Downtown faith communities offer warming centers for Olympia’s homeless

Kathleen Gallaher smiles as she sees a friend arrive at the Interfaith Works Winter Warming Center at Temple Beth Hatfiloh, one of three downtown Olympia faith communities that are hosting the daily daytime operations.
Kathleen Gallaher smiles as she sees a friend arrive at the Interfaith Works Winter Warming Center at Temple Beth Hatfiloh, one of three downtown Olympia faith communities that are hosting the daily daytime operations. toverman@theolympian.com

Three faith communities in downtown Olympia are hosting warming centers for the next four months to give those who live on the streets daily relief from the cold and rain.

From now through March 31, First Christian Church will host a daytime warming center three days a week, while Temple Beth Hatfiloh and United Churches will each host a warming center two days a week, to cover all seven days of the week.

A partnership among the three faith communities has made the warming centers possible — and can help make downtown Olympia a better place for all, said the Rev. Amy Walters-LaCroix of First Christian Church.

“You have to pay attention and reach out to those who are in the most need,” Walters-LaCroix said. “This is really a very easy, peaceful, good thing to get people off the streets and feeling safe.”

So far, the warming centers are attracting as many as 60 people a day and are busy as soon as they open at 7 a.m.

Some people need a place to go in the morning when local overnight shelters close. For other people, the centers offer a safe place to sleep after staying out all night in the elements, constantly wary that someone could steal their stuff or ask them to move.

Staff from the Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter will help run the warming centers. Max Goldsmith, part of the support staff, said many people are exhausted or ill when they arrive.

“Sleep deprivation is a big thing on the streets,” said Goldsmith, adding that without the daytime warming centers, “there’s really no other place to be.”

On a quiet Monday morning, a few dozen people in Temple Beth Hatfiloh’s social hall talked in small groups, watched TV or kept to themselves. People who use the center have agreed to follow a good behavior policy like one at the Interfaith Works shelter.

For David Rodriguez, the warming center provides a safe place to take his medication, which has a sedative effect. Before leaving for an appointment, Rodriguez rounds up his belongings and seals two books inside plastic bags to keep them dry.

“It’s not about coffee. It’s about a roof,” said Rodriguez, a 62-year-old veteran who is on a waiting list for an apartment. “The warming center is for survival.”

Meg Martin, director of the 37-bed Interfaith Works shelter, said the warming centers fill a critical void and ultimately benefit the entire community. She has long supported more daytime gathering places for the homeless, not just to meet their basic needs, but to help take a burden off downtown Olympia.

“What that really tells me is that there are 60 people throughout the day who would otherwise be downtown in front of businesses,” Martin said of the warming centers. “When the space is provided for people, they go to it.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869, @andyhobbs

Warming center locations

The Interfaith Works winter warming centers will be open 7 a.m.-1 p.m. through March 31 at the following locations in downtown Olympia:

Monday and Tuesday: Temple Beth Hatfiloh, 201 Eighth Ave. SE.

Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday: First Christian Church, 701 Franklin St. SE.

Friday and Saturday: United Churches, 110 11th Ave. SE.

Donations of coffee, creamer, snacks and warm socks are welcome at any of the centers. To learn more, contact Pastor Amy LaCroix at pastoramy@firstchristianolympia.org or 360-943-8025.

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