Langley’s warming center won’t open this winter

Oak Harbor’s Haven shelter an option instead

The Whidbey Homeless Coalition has no plans to run a warming center in Langley this winter because the Haven, an emergency shelter in Oak Harbor, is now open every night.

The past two winters, the coalition and Langley United Methodist Church worked together to provide overnight shelter from the cold for the homeless. Doors opened to its fellowship hall when temperatures dipped to 35 degrees or below.

That happened 44 times last November through March, almost stretching the volunteer effort beyond its limits.

“There have been conversations with the Langley United Methodist Church and we have come to a mutual conclusion to not open the cold weather shelter, particularly as Haven is available to all,” said Faith Wilder, board director of the non-profit organization that operates the Haven and transitional housing in Langley called House of Hope.

Between six to a dozen individuals would sleep at Langley’s warming center in a setting that included cots, bedding, food and bathrooms. Volunteers admitted the clients by 6 p.m.; they had to agree to certain rules and clean their sleeping area before leaving by 7 a.m.

Last winter, many of Langley’s warming center regulars spent their days at Oak Harbor’s SPIN Cafe, a drop-in center. Then, they boarded free Island Transit buses to travel to Langley and spend the night.

However, that routine wasn’t possible on weekends when there’s no bus service, which is still the case.

“We do have a transportation concern for South Enders seeking shelter on weekends,” Wilder said.

While the coalition continues looking for a permanent site for the Haven, the shelter rotates among churches in 90-day segments and depends on congregations, service organizations and individuals to volunteer for nightly shifts.

The Haven opened April 13 at Oak Harbor’s Christian Reformed Church. It’s now set-up at First United Methodist Church, 1050 S.E. Ireland St.

“It’s surprisingly calm and peaceful,” said Pastor David Parker, who’s been a Haven overnight volunteer.

“Occasionally there will be someone off their meds or someone who’s snuck in alcohol and has to be booted,” he added. “But by and large, people are really tired when they arrive. Many are in their cots by 8 p.m. and asleep by 9 o’clock.”

The Haven is open to men, women and children and has a capacity of 30 people. A small paid staff manage its operations while two volunteers act as overnight hosts and assure the shelter remains safe.

Since cold and wet weather arrived in late October, the Haven’s been running at “full tilt,” Wilder said.

“Most nights are full although it is still variable from night to night. We still have a good mix of women and men and the occasional child,” she said. “About 90 percent of those served are islanders or have island connections.”

People have been turned away but usually because they don’t want to comply with Haven rules, such as no drinking, drugs, weapons or loud behavior, according to Wilder.

Intensive counseling is being provided for those using the Haven in hopes of finding them alternative places to live.

The Haven serves a wide range of people — from those who’ve been homeless for years, often suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues — to those who’ve recently lost their housing due to job loss or lack of affordable housing.

Volunteers are always in need at the Haven to help in many capacities. Training is provided for overnight hosts. Volunteers are also needed to bring snacks, breakfasts and help with laundry. Call 360-977-1200.

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