Homeless flock to shelter in Washougal

Overnight space draws nine guests in first two nights

Robert Barber, chair of ReFuel Washougal and lead pastor of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Washougal, washes dishes at the Washougal-Camas severe weather shelter, Dec. 5, in the Washougal Community Center. Six people visited the shelter that night, and eight stayed the following night.

The Washougal Community Center and volunteers recently provided a temporary home-like setting for people lacking a consistent safe, warm place to stay.

The Washougal-Camas severe weather shelter opened from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., Dec. 5 and 6, when temperatures were near freezing and the wind chill factor was in the low teens.

Robert Barber, chair of ReFuel Washougal and lead pastor of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, in Washougal, said six people visited the shelter on Dec. 5. On Dec. 6, five returned and three new guests arrived, for a total of eight visitors to the shelter the second night.

Chad Kirby, 22, said he usually stays with friends in Vancouver, but he was outside the Washougal Community Library, next to the community center, on Dec. 5, when a volunteer told him about the shelter.

“I love this,” Kirby said, while sitting in the community center. “I respect anyone helping the homeless.”

Kirby, a former student at Mountain View High School in Vancouver, said “family problems” caused his current living situation. He had an upcoming job interview scheduled for a stocker position at an area grocery store.

Some of the guests at the severe weather shelter drank coffee and ate stew, Oreos and chips while watching the movie, “The Benchwarmers,” followed by “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

There were pet crates available, although “Demon,” a 16-year-old Chihuahua-terrier mix, seemed content to sleep next to his owner on a cot.

The dog and his owner, a 57-year-old woman who did not want to provide her name, usually sleep in her car.

“This shelter is great,” the woman said. “It’s a godsend.”

She said while health issues resulted in financial difficulties and her current lack of warm accommodations, she hoped to receive a housing voucher during an upcoming meeting with the Vancouver Housing Authority.

While other guests prepared to sleep on air mattresses at the Washougal-Camas severe weather shelter, Jeremy Bye sat at a table and worked on a five-strand necklace he was making.

He greeted two of the guests at the shelter by their first names.

Bye, 41, learned how to make jewelry from a family friend more than 20 years ago. He gets some of the jewelry supplies at Goodwill stores, Walmart and area craft stores, and he usually gives away the finished pieces to friends.

Bye is a former Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified mechanic who grew up in Hazel Dell and earned a General Educational Development (GED) credential after attending Hudson’s Bay and Evergreen high schools. He now collects bottles and cans to pay his cell phone bill.

Bye said he found a brand new badminton set in an apartment dumpster, and he gave it to a father and three children he met at Cottonwood Beach, in Washougal.

Bye said he stays “off and on” with a friend and the friend’s daughter, in a studio apartment in Washougal.

“Sometimes people need space to themselves,” he said, regarding his decision to stay at the severe weather shelter Dec. 5.

“I’m very appreciative of the shelter,” he said.

Bye and his mother used to car camp in the St. Anne’s Episcopal Church parking lot in Washougal after she lost her house. His mother now lives in Spokane, the same city where Bye’s ex-wife resides.

The city of Washougal, in partnership with ReFuel Washougal, is expected to open the severe weather shelter when the temperatures drop below 30 degrees or there is snow or ice in the forecast and there are enough trained volunteers to staff the shelter overnight.

Barber said donations of twin size, medium weight blankets, as well as socks, gloves, scarves, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, shaving cream, deodorant and feminine hygiene products for the severe weather shelter, can be dropped off in the Washougal City Hall lobby, 1701 “C” St., Washougal, and the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce office, 422 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas.

For information about volunteer opportunities at the shelter, contact Barber at rbarber626@gmail.com.

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