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Continuum of Care: Introducing winter warming centers to address the needs of homeless community

By Heather Hogue - Special to the Daily Herald | Oct 1, 2023

Daily Herald file photo

Volunteer Bethany Gull checks out a previously identified homeless camp in Provo while assisting with the Point-in-Time count on Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. Organized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Point-in-Time count is a count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January.

As temperatures start to drop here in Utah County, homeless service agencies in the Mountainland Continuum of Care are gearing up for an anticipated cold winter ahead. In addition to the resources that we have for those experiencing homelessness, we are pleased to announce the inclusion of warming centers for the most vulnerable in our community this winter.

Anticipated to open around Dec. 1, these warming centers will be located strategically in Utah County. We will operate multiple locations on a rotating basis, with each location open for one or two nights a week. This ensures that we have at least one warming center open every night throughout the winter for those seeking refuge from the freezing temperatures.

These new warming centers are in partnership with the nonprofit community, faith-based community and offices of homeless services. This valuable collaboration helps ensure we address the needs of our most vulnerable while also considering the needs of all involved. “This long-needed private/public collaboration is going to save lives this winter,” said Karen McCandless, CEO of Community Action Services and Food Bank.

We are committed as a community that no one experiencing homelessness freezes to death on our streets again.

What are warming centers?

Warming centers are a nationwide best practice that create safe, warm spaces in the winter for individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness. They are designed as temporary crisis facilities. Warming centers operate in public or private spaces and are intended to mitigate the life-threatening impact of cold weather for people who have nowhere to go. In Utah County, warming centers will be part of a multipronged approach to ensuring the welfare of individuals experiencing homelessness. Families with minor children, individuals fleeing domestic violence who cannot access a domestic violence shelter bed, and other especially vulnerable adults will be diverted to a room in a motel, paid for by partner service agencies.

Are warming centers the same as emergency shelters?

Warming centers and emergency shelters have very different functions in a community, both in their primary purpose, impact to the community, and scope of work. While emergency shelters offer year-round overnight accommodations, often with meals and extended stays, warming centers are more short-term, providing relief during extreme weather conditions.

Our overnight warming centers will open each evening and they will close each morning. Individuals using the centers will leave at the specified closing times, minimizing any concerns about lingering in the neighborhoods. Warming centers are also usually located in existing structures, such as public buildings or private churches. Emergency shelters, on the other hand, are permanent structures in a community that offer comprehensive services, including overnight lodging, meals, showers and support services, and are accessible year-round to those experiencing homelessness.

Will these impact our community?

The discussions for these warming centers began in June and involved the faith-based community, the nonprofit community, funders in state and local government, and other stakeholders. We are committed to ensuring that there is open dialogue, proactive engagement and careful strategic planning to mitigate any community concerns. One of these warming centers has been in operation in Utah County for the last seven years, and they have valuable insight in how to responsibly operate without causing disruption to their neighbors. As these discussions continue, we are developing policies and procedures to ensure that additional foot traffic will be minimal and loitering will not be permitted. The Continuum of Care is committed to ensuring the safety of our most vulnerable while still recognizing and responding to the needs of our community.

How can you help?

While we are currently hammering out our policies and procedures to ensure that this project is successful long-term and meets the needs of everyone in our community, we recognize that we will need additional community support. If you would like more information about volunteering or being involved, please sign up at https://mountainlandcoc.org/get-involved.html and we will have staff reach out to you as we move forward.

We are also looking for immediate donations of the following for service providers in our community, since the opening of our warming centers are still weeks away:

  • Genesis Project — socks, blankets and tarps. Point of contact: Justin Banks, 801-755-7051.
  • Community Action Services and Food Bank — sleeping bags, tarps and can openers. Donate at 815 S. Freedom Blvd., Provo.
  • Orem City — compact sleeping bags and feminine hygiene products. Point of contact: Kamryn Wilson, kmwilson@orem.gov.
  • Wasatch Behavioral Health — sleeping bags, hand warmers, backpacks, gloves and hats. Donate at the WATCH program, 299 E. 900 South Provo.

As winter approaches, we are grateful for the support of our community in helping to keep safe our most vulnerable. We invite you to join us in making a tangible difference for our homeless neighbors this winter by volunteering your time or helping provide life-saving winter supplies. Your support matters, and together we can create a safer space for those in need in our community this winter.


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