During this week’s frigid temperatures, Douglas County residents have found two spots of warmth.
The Superior Douglas County Family YMCA announced Monday, Dec. 9, it was offering its facility as a warming station during business hours on days when the weather dips below zero degrees or the wind child is at minus 20 degrees. Ruth House, a ministry of Walking Victorious, has been providing warmth day and night at 632 Grand Ave. since before Thanksgiving.
Both are getting utilized.
A number of people have been stopping by the YMCA to warm up and have a cup of coffee.
“Yesterday, we had a college student stop in who just needed to warm up on their way to school,” Chief Executive Officer Chris Stenberg said.
The YMCA became an official warming station through the Head of the Lakes United Way in 2018, but the nonprofit has always had an open-door policy. Community members are welcome to visit facility at 9 N. 21st St. to warm up, cool down or just rest their feet.
“I’d like to think it’s something we’ve been doing and would always do,” Stenberg said.
In extreme cold, it’s even more important.
“Under social responsibility I think it’s the right thing for us to do to say that everyone is welcome here,” Stenberg said. “It gets dangerous out there very quickly.
Ruth House operates a daytime drop-in center from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., providing a safe, sober environment for people struggling with homelessness. Visitors have access to a daily shower and can wash a load of laundry. Volunteer staff offer supportive services ranging from resume writing, job search and crisis navigation to GED tutoring and testing. All services are free.
About 25 people a day visit the drop-in center, according to Chrissy Foster, Ruth House manager and Walking Victorious Ministries program coordinator.
She volunteers there most days as well.
“I can’t stay away,” Foster said. “It’s the family feel that we have.”
From 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., Ruth House transforms into an all-night warming shelter. Initially, it was scheduled to be open only if temperatures dropped below 20 degrees. Recently, it’s been open every night. It sheltered 10-12 people nightly during this week’s deep freeze.
Ruth House is run by volunteers and supported by donations. The community has been generous, Foster said, filling needs as soon as she posts them on the Ruth House-Twin Ports Facebook page. Donations of food, hygiene items, clothing and winter gear have rolled in.
Since it opened on Thanksgiving of 2018, the ministry’s work has left an impact.
“Some of the people who used Ruth House last year are volunteers this year,” Foster said.
According to Douglas County Emergency Management Director Dave Sletten, Ruth House and the YMCA are the only warming centers currently active in the county. That may change. Foster said she’s gotten calls from other faith groups in the area asking how Ruth House was set up and what size volunteer base is needed to open a warming center.
“Eventually, I’d like to see every church building open 24/7,” Foster said.
Stenberg encouraged nonprofits in the area to touch base with the United Way about becoming a warming station as well. It’s been a good move for the YMCA.
“In the spirit of us being for all, we need to live that and being open for people to come and get warm, in my mind, is just the right thing to do and aligns with our core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility,” he said.