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‘This church opened their doors to these people’: Temporary warming center opens in downtown Spokane

The pop-up shelter at Westminster Congregational Church filled up on Monday and Tuesday nights amid freezing temperatures.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Freezing temperatures have recently swept through Spokane, leaving many homeless residents looking for a warm place to shelter.

The city has said it has created additional space for people to go during freezing conditions, but Westminster Congregational has also opened their doors as a temporary location downtown. On Monday night, 30 people used this building as a resource.

The temporary shelter space filled up again on Tuesday night. With COVID-19 protocols in place, they’ve even had to turn some away, but never without something to keep them warm.

“Someone new comes in, there’s sheets, and we hand out blankets to anyone that’s leaving,” said Julie Garcia with Jewels Helping Hands.

Almost one year after running their first warming center, Jewels Helping Hands is back in operating this new shelter out of Westminster Congregational. This time it's in response to record-breaking snow that fell last weekend.

“This church opened their doors to these people,” Garcia explained. “They didn’t have to, it didn’t benefit them in any way.”

RELATED: ‘We’re preparing for the winter’: Dropping temperatures on the minds of Spokane advocates for homeless

Garcia's outreach program will be running the shelter until Saturday, serving as a layer of protection for anyone unable to find shelter elsewhere. According to city officials, there’s been available space at shelters in Spokane.

“Communication is key,” said city spokesperson Brian Coddington when asked how they could ensure no bed goes unused. “There’s no one size fits all model here so it’s great that others in the community are able to work with churches and find additional space for people to be out of the cold.”

Barriers have been lowered to take more people in, but while there have been extra beds, finding a place to go and a lack of space are struggles that people experiencing homelessness face. 

Jewels is working to decrease that problem, even if it means that money is coming out of their pocket.

“Everything here is funded by us and we’re offering that to any church who is willing to open up to even a 25 person capacity," Garcia said. 

Many that have utilized the facility don’t normally turn to shelters when they need help but have said they felt comfortable under Garcia's leadership.

“This is the importance of relationship building,” she said. “This is why outreach and what we do is so important because we have a relationship with these folks”

Snow season in Spokane officially begins on Nov. 15. 

Other shelters like truth ministries have waived entrance fees during the cold snap. Union Gospel Mission Men’s Crisis has relaxed entrance requirements since the snowfall.