Amanda Duke, 22, said that she would be staying at the warming center at Fresh Start in Coeur d’Alene on Monday. (Kathy Plonka)
Amanda Duke, 22, said that she would be staying at the warming center at Fresh Start in Coeur d’Alene on Monday. (Kathy Plonka)

Offers of warmth as chill settles in

Shelters battle economy to give respite from cold

Amanda Duke stopped by the Fresh Start homeless drop-in center in Coeur d’Alene on Monday afternoon, glad to find a place she could feel warm and safe for the night.

Monday was the first night the center was planning to offer its warming shelter to house people overnight, with temperatures forecast to drop into the low 20s, said Howard Martinson, the executive director. Ordinarily, temperatures below 20 will trigger the center’s opening, he said.

“I’m grateful for this. This place has always been somewhere I know I’ll be warm and they’ll feed me,” said Duke, 22, who said she’s nine weeks pregnant. “I feel safe here. The staff, you know, they care.”

This winter season, Fresh Start may offer the only warming center in Coeur d’Alene. St. Vincent de Paul, which previously offered a Coeur d’Alene warming shelter, has consolidated its services at its Post Falls warming shelter, which is four times bigger. St. Vincent also shuttles anyone who needs it to the Post Falls warming center at 202 W. Seventh St., said Jeff Conroy, the executive director.

“The numbers are up. We’re looking at a 160 percent increase (in people needing services) over last year,” Conroy said. But, he added, “donations are the same. We’re trying to do more with less.”

Last year, Fresh Start’s shelter at 1524 E. Sherman Ave. was open 30 nights and served 825 guests, Martinson said. The shelter opens no later than 8 p.m. and remains open until noon the following day. It offers hot coffee and food, showers, laundry, telephone, Internet access and bedrolls for guests.

Fresh Start has a 64-person capacity and overflow space for 40 more people available at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Martinson said Fresh Start’s warming shelter has never been filled to capacity.

Last year was the first year St. Vincent attempted to have two shelters – one in Coeur d’Alene and one in Post Falls – Conroy said. The shelters were open 45 nights. With the cost of paying employees to staff the centers, Conroy said, the nonprofit needed to raise $20,000 to open each site.

“Right now, we have $30,000, not enough to open the second warming center,” Conroy said. However, the nonprofit is holding a variety of fundraisers in the coming weeks to attempt to reopen the Coeur d’Alene center. The Coeur d’Alene shelter holds 15 people and the Post Falls center holds 60, he said.

St. Vincent’s Post Falls warming center will be open from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. throughout the winter whenever the temperature drops below 20 degrees. It offers sleeping bags, blankets, clothing, a bathroom, warm food and drinks.

Duke said St. Vincent employees also are helping her apply to get into the agency’s women’s shelter. Duke said she hopes that will provide her some stability as she searches for work and applies for Medicaid.

Duke said she has only been drug-free for a month, but when she found out she was pregnant, she realized “it’s not about me anymore.”

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