Spurred by dipping temperatures, the Montrose Lighthouse emergency overnight shelter opened Thursday, a few days ahead of schedule.
The shelter, located north of town, usually opens Nov. 1 each year and is open nightly until April. All systems are go there now, said board member Garey Martinez, who noted that most recents nights have dropped to 30 degrees or lower.
“We’re just going to go ahead and open up, primarily because of the weather. We’re having a lot of people come in and ask us for tents, for sleeping bags, but sleeping in a warm bed is a whole lot better than (for example) sleeping down by the river,” he said Thursday afternoon, as final the prep work for opening wound up.
The 30-bed dormitory-style shelter doubles as farmworker housing during warmer months. Lighthouse subleases the building from Tuxedo Corn, which leases it from the City of Montrose. The lease recently was extended for another five years and Martinez thanked the city for that.
It’s not just cold weather that has Martinez and the rest of the charity’s board concerned. The board members and volunteers also are on guard against COVID-19, which has been pushing hospital capacity and which also last month put the local community corrections facility into outbreak status.
Martinez said COVID safety protocols remain in place at the Lighthouse, although because it is no longer a state mandate, people are not required to wear face coverings.
“We’re still encouraging masks, although very few people are wearing them. We do still encourage social distancing and washing hands,” he said.
At intake each night, shelter guests must sanitize their hands, have a temperature check and answer basic questions about how they are feeling and whether they have experienced COVID symptoms.
Additional cleaning takes place at the dorm, where air filters run constantly.
The intake site is Martinez’s Shepherd’s Hand Center, at 505 S. Second St. (Shepherd’s Hand does not allow overnight housing.) Prospective Lighthouse guests meet there at 5 each night for first-come, first-served placement at the overnight shelter and undergo the screening process.
At 5:30 p.m., a van transports them to the Lighthouse, where they receive a hot meal and then can enjoy a warm place with TV, internet and other ways to pass the time until lights-out at 10 p.m.
The next morning, everyone has to be ready for van pickup and transport back to 505 S. Second St. after breakfast.
Last season, the Lighthouse provided 3,297 bed nights (one person in a bed overnight between winter of 2020 and spring of 2021). The number included special circumstances, such as motel placement when necessary, as when a large family comes seeking shelter for the night.
“It costs us approximately $60,000 a year to operate the Lighthouse for six months. We’re always looking for funding,” Martinez said.
The charity receives grants and individual donations, as well as other forms of support from a community Martinez said has been generous.
“We’re holding our own, keeping it just above water. We can always use the financial support,” he said.
“If anybody would like to volunteer, we would see what they would like to be doing. Volunteers are always desirable,” he said.
“Homeless” doesn’t necessarily look like people think it does, Martinez also said.
There are resident homeless people who live permanently in the community, although they are not housed.
There are also people considered transient homeless, who are not from Montrose, but come here and seek money or goods from passersby. Then there are who Martinez calls homeless by circumstance — job loss, marital division and other sudden occurrences that causes them to lose permanent housing.
People who live with relatives because they cannot afford housing on their own fall under this definition, as do youths and others with nowhere else to go who “couch surf” by taking a bed from friends when it’s offered. The latter includes teenagers; Martinez said in 2019, about 200 high school students were couch surfing.
The Shepherd’s Hand Center works in tandem with Lighthouse, but has a broader mission. It provides showers, laundry, storage lockers, food boxes, hot breakfast and lunch catered from Martinez’s certified food trailer outside, and meeting space for other nonprofits and the community as a whole. Again, it cannot provide overnight shelter.
Shepherd’s Hand is also a collection site for donated tents and sleeping bags; it accepts clothing, winter gear and other items, too.
Breakfast is Monday — Friday, 8 — 9 a.m.; lunch is from 11:30 a.m. — 12:30 p.m. Shepherd’s Hand also provides and prepares food for Region 10’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program volunteers to deliver to enrolled seniors.
Food box distribution is Monday and Thursdays from 9 a.m. — noon and there are no income requirements or limits on the number of times someone can receive food. Martinez’s only requirement is hunger.
The center also has an open pantry set-up, allowing people to browse the shelves for what they need, similar to shopping at a grocery store.
The center is open from about 7 a.m. — 5 p.m. Monday — Friday.
About 80 to 100 people a week come through Shepherd’s Hand’s doors and 357 people are registered with the center.
“The numbers have not increased by they haven’t decreased,” Martinez said. “We hit a plateau here this summer. I don’t know if it’s because we don’t have (as many) transient homeless, but probably for the last month or month and a half, it’s been pretty consistent with the numbers we’ve been reporting.”
Volunteers and funding also will help Shepherd’s Hand.
“We have lots of food; we have lots of resources and lots of enthusiasm to help those who have a need,” said Martinez.
For information about helping Shepherd’s Hand, or information about its services, call 970-275-7215 or visit shepherdshandmontrose.org. For information about Lighthouse, contact Martinez at the above number or 970-433-3690.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.