SEQUIM — The Sequim Community Warming Center will be open for February and March every night of the week, starting tonight.
The center will be open from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. tonight through March 31, at the lower level of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 525 N. Fifth Ave.
It usually opens when the temperatures are forecast to be below 35 degrees for three consecutive nights or if the temperature stays below freezing for 24 hours.
Individuals can go to the center to stay warm, have something to eat and receive donated warm clothing items and winter essentials, if needed. It is not an overnight shelter, such as is operated in Port Angeles and Port Townsend.
Michael Johnson, shelter manager for Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP), who oversees the center, said keeping the center open for two months consecutively could give insight into the needs of the homeless in the Sequim community.
“The bigger issue is we’re trying to test the waters to find out if Sequim will support a shelter … that’s the ultimate goal to see if that’s something the city has a need for,” Johnson said.
The center has opened about a dozen times since October, Johnson said, and is seeing a higher average of people coming into the center than last year. An average of about six people were visiting the center last year, and this year the average is at about 13 people per night.
Jean Pratschner, the center’s volunteer coordinator, said keeping the center open continuously is something she’s always hoped for.
“It’s wonderful to be able to stay open all the time because people can count on it,” Pratschner said. “Now I can tell them where to go and get warm.”
Johnson said OlyCAP has had conversations with the City of Sequim and other organizations in the community, such as local churches, about what the needs are in Sequim for a potential shelter.
Opening the center night by night for two months could help provide more data to determine what type of shelter could best serve Sequim, such as a winter shelter, a family shelter, a single-adult shelter and more.
“Talks are continuing,” Johnson said.
Last year, the average age of people using the center was about 45 or 46 years of age, Johnson said. However, the center also has seen youths and seniors use the facility.
“It is a mix; we get people from 18 to 70 (years old),” Johnson said. “We’re seeing a slight raise in age closer to 50 right now and the numbers are pushing up just a hair.”
He said the center not only has a vital role in keeping people warm but also provides the homeless with resources to get more help.
“The warming center is supposed to be a place to go and connect people with services, getting them into housing, bus passes, something that will help them improve their lives,” Johnson said.
The center is funded through donations set up through OlyCAP. Volunteers continue to ask for donations to keep the center operating in the coming fall and winter months.
“With us being open consistently, it will push up the overall cost for the month,” Johnson said.
The center will close for the season after March 31 and will open again in the fall and winter months, unless temperatures dip below 35 degrees after March.
Donate to the center at OlyCAP’s website, www.olycap.org, or checks can be mailed to the OlyCAP office at 823 Commerce Loop, Port Townsend, 98368 with attn. to the Sequim Community Warming Center.
For more information, call Pratschner at 505-264-0278.