Salvation Army site seeks volunteers to open doors on cold nights
It could be weeks before subzero temperatures hit Rochester, but plans are heating up to help ensure homeless residents have a place to go when temperature dip below zero.
The Salvation Army is preparing to open its doors again this winter whenever a seven-day forecast predicts overnight temperatures of zero or below.
“Any night I can get volunteers, I can open,” Alex Hurlebaus, Salvation Army case worker and Warming Center coordinator, said of plans to open the site on nights when temperatures dip below zero.
The Warming Center is returning to the organization’s main citadel site at 20 First Ave. NE.
Last year, it opened in the Salvation Army’s adult day care facility and saw an average of 35 people each of the 27 nights it was in operation.
It was an expansion from the six to seven nights the Warming Center operated in previous years, when threshold for opening the doors was when the windchill dropped to 25 degrees below zero.
Hurlebaus said increased operation hinged on volunteers.
“We went from 30 or so potential volunteers to 180 total volunteers — community members and things like that, who were willing to give their time and show up,” he said, noting this year will rely on similar support.
Two informational sessions for volunteers are planned at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Warming Center, 20 First Ave. NE.
Trauma informed care and de-escalation training session will be held at 6 p.m. Dec. 11 at the same address for all volunteers.
While volunteers will be trained regarding what to expect at the Warming Center, the Salvation Army also plans to have at least one security staff member on site at all times to support them.
In addition, Hurlebaus said many of the nights will likely include social workers and other professional volunteers, who have staffed the Warming Center throughout its existence.
He said those volunteers are key to converting stays in the Warming Center to longer-term help.
“We were able to kind of identify people right on the spot and find out what it was they were struggling with,” he said, noting approximately 25 percent of the people who stayed became permanently housed due to help they received at the Warming Center.
He said he’s hoping to grow the effort this year.
Olmsted County officials have expressed the same wishes, pitching in as much as $25,000 from Housing and Rehabilitation Authority levy funds to support the operation this year.
Additionally, Trent Fluegel, the county’s housing resource coordinator, is also working with community partners to develop a long-term plan.
“This is kind of a transitional year, I think,” he said, emphasizing that planning for future years is a communitywide effort to identify possible solutions to helping homeless residents survive the coldest days.
“We want to make sure we hear from the people who use the services, but also the broader community,” he added.
For now, he said the primary goal is getting people through this winter and providing whatever help is possible.
“That’s one of the things overall the county is looking at: How do we get out from behind the counters at county buildings and reach the people who are the least likely to otherwise access our services?” he said.
In addition to making connections to community services, the Warming Center will provide a place to sleep, eat, shower and even wash and dry small loads of laundry during the coldest nights.
“Rochester used to be a place where every winter was dangerous for our homeless community because there was nowhere for them to go when the temperatures dropped,” Hurlebaus states on the Salvation Army website. “Now we can ensure that people are safe and warm during dangerous weather conditions.”