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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Salvation Army to open warming center at freezing

Maj. Steve Ball and the Salvation Army plan to open the city’s warming center in the Salvation Army gym when the temperature is 32 degrees or below. (Dan Pelle)

The Salvation Army will be running the city’s warming center this year, and the group is recruiting volunteers so that the homeless can have a place to go when it’s freezing but not cold enough to meet the city’s mandate.

The city’s arrangement with the Salvation Army, 222 E. Indiana Ave., provides about $23,000 for the program.

The city funds warming centers when the temperature drops to 20 degrees, which happens about 30 times a winter. Maj. Steve Ball wants to offer a warm place for the homeless any night it’s 32 degrees or colder, November through February.

“It’s freezing out there,” Ball said. He’s seen men with frostbite on their fingers and has heard from some homeless that it often takes about 30 minutes to be able to move after sleeping outside in weather that is below freezing, but not cold enough to open a warming center.

“We want to get out to all churches and civic groups to come and partner with us,” Ball said.

Ball estimates he will need five volunteers a night to monitor the center from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. He said volunteers can work in shifts.

This year, one location will serve single men, single women and families with children, Ball said. The gymnasium of the building will be divided by large curtains and monitors will be on duty.

“It should work pretty well,” Ball said.

Since the Salvation Army has a Christian mission, church groups will have the opportunity to offer Bible study, prayer, or show Christian movies in the facility’s fellowship hall next to the gymnasium.

But activities don’t have to be religious. Volunteers could offer haircuts, games for children, sack lunches for the guests to take with them or whatever volunteers feel passionate about.

Ball said last year the Salvation Army served single men and families with children in separate spaces. The location of the facility, about a mile from the downtown core, didn’t seem to deter anyone from coming out of the cold.

“If it’s important, they walk a mile,” Ball said. The location is also on a bus route.

Ball said the guests will be accepted in any condition – they don’t have to be sober – as long as they exhibit appropriate behavior. Once they leave, they can’t come back that night.

Along with volunteers, the Salvation Army is looking for clean and warm blankets, coats, scarves, gloves and hats.

“We know we’re up against a huge challenge,” Ball said. “We believe this will lessen the load on emergency services in a very big way.”