Shelter leaders make urgent plea for help

Dick Wallace

The program that provides night shelter for homeless people on the Long Beach Peninsula has delayed its start.

“We need volunteers,” said Dick Wallace, who helps spearhead the program.

People are needed to supervise at the Long Beach and Ilwaco shelters in the Overnight Winter Lodging (OWL) program. It was to begin Nov. 1, but this has been delayed until Dec. 1 because there are too few volunteers.

Wallace made the appeal for people to step forward this week as 79-mile-per-hour winds and torrential rain battered the region.

Leaders at three churches allow their buildings to be used.

• Peninsula Church of the Nazarene is the location for Monday and Tuesday nights;

• Wallace’s own St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Seaview is the site for Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays;

• New Life Church in Ilwaco has the duty Saturday and Sunday nights.

Occasionally this changes when the churches have events.

Doors are locked at 9 p.m. and the people staying overnight must follow a number of rules, including no smoking, no pets and no alcohol. They are required to remain inside the churches throughout the night. Also, they must assist with morning cleanup before they leave.

“It’s a requirement that they help out, and they do help out,” Wallace said. “They also police each other — if one gets out of sorts, they will get them to cool down.”

Volunteers needed for three shifts to supervise these operations are placed on a schedule that calls for 49 slots to be filled in any week. An AmeriCorps staff member based in Ilwaco coordinates them, offering regular email updates on schedule changes and openings.

Wallace said he has names of 40 people ready to help this winter, but really needs 60 to 70 committed volunteers. “We cannot just have 49, because people’s schedules change and someone has to cover,” he said.

Wallace is chairman of the board of Peninsula Poverty Response, a partnership that covers many organizations including the faith community, the Coastal Community Action Program, Pacific County Health Department and AmeriCorps.

The OWL program, which is part of that, began on the Peninsula in January 2016 and served 29 people. Last year’s season, which ran from November 2016 to March 2017, served 134. According to the most recent count in 2014, there are 200 homeless people in Pacific County, the majority in south county.

The number using the program varies. “Some nights we have had none, other times one, two, three. I think 16 was our highest,” Wallace said. The program serves men and women, and there are occasionally children. But he said they make an effort to work with other agencies to help place them in more suitable, permanent arrangements.

Those in the shelter sleep in segregated areas on thick padded mats that are moved out of the churches each morning. Fresh bedding is allocated to each person and washed weekly.

Volunteers maintain a supervisory presence. Although there is not a full meal service at any of the locations, donated food items like energy bars, cereal and soup are available.

A team of three volunteers work from 7 p.m. to midnight, checking in on the guests and getting them settled in.

The two-person night shift comes on duty at 11:30 p.m. and stays until 6 a.m.

A third team of two comes in at 5:30 a.m. and remains until 8 a.m. when the shelters are cleared so church staff can resume their daytime operations.

All those involved with OWL work with state Department of Social and Health Services staff to ensure that homeless people are given information about help available for them. Bus passes and other assistance is available.

Twice a week, the program’s van ferries people to an Ocean Park location for showers.

The program costs about $7,000 a year; organizers draw on funding from Pacific County, topped up by private donations. It will run through February, and may be extended into March if the weather continues to be consistently bad.

Volunteers are accepted after background checks and given training on what to expect, including the importance of confidentiality. Wallace said OWL helpers can be retired, or husband-and-wife teams, or people who can donate some time after or before their regular daytime work. They need to be non-judgmental. “There are no deep requirements,” he said. “They need to be good listeners, because these people like to talk and visit.”

At the end of the winter program, the organization holds an appreciation dinner for the volunteers.

Anyone interested in stepping up is asked to call 360 783-2688 or email

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