Homeless people in North Idaho now have a place to stay warm every night of the week. Ground Force Manufacturing, a Post Falls company, is offering an unused warehouse as a warming center through the end of February.
In response, St. Vincent de Paul of North Idaho closed its Post Falls warming center and shifted its resources to the warehouse at 6001 E. Seltice Way. St. Vincent worked with other agencies, including Dirne Clinic and the state Department of Labor, to spread the word about the new warming center and collect sleeping bags, food and clothing for the guests.
“It’s a huge community collaboration,” said Matt Hutchinson, St. Vincent’s social service director.
Some 30 to 35 people have been there most nights since the warming center opened last Monday, Hutchinson said. A short walk from a stop on the free Citylink bus system, it’s open 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
“Now that they know they can come to the warming center anytime, it’s just going to be a standard,” Hutchinson said. “It’s a lot more visible and accessible. They don’t have to look at (the news) at noon to find out what the weather is going to be that evening.”
Previously, St. Vincent’s warming center opened only when temperatures dipped below 20 degrees. That is also the case at the Fresh Start warming center at 1524 E. Sherman Ave. in Coeur d’Alene.
Ground Force’s 4,000-square-foot warehouse offers space for up to 50 people and will be open every night until the end of February, said Tom Hamilton, a manager with the company. Hamilton said company owner Ron Nilson was inspired to offer the warehouse after he felt challenged by a sermon at his church to do more for the community.
“The great thing about the community we live in is there’s never a shortage of people who want to help,” Hamilton said, referring to the social service agencies that gathered what was needed for the warming center. “When you give them an opportunity, they don’t let any grass grow under their feet.”
But this is a one-shot deal. Next year, the company will be using the warehouse, so social service providers hope the example will inspire someone else to step up with a space donation.
Hamilton and Hutchinson said since word spread about the new center, they’ve been overwhelmed with calls from people wanting to help. They still need donations of cots and sleeping bags, because people are sleeping on a carpeted concrete floor.
Despite that, Hamilton said, “the outpouring of gratitude has been almost embarrassing.” In the past, he said, homeless people in North Idaho have not known where they would spend the night. “Now we’re telling them, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to be here all winter.’ ”