Monica Tittle said if she didn’t have a warming center to go to, she would probably be spending the winter living under a bridge.
Tittle, 43, said she has stayed in shelters like the House of Charity and Hope House, but has PTSD and is afraid of small spaces, crowding and noise. She said she respects what those shelters do but struggles to sleep in in close proximity to so many other women.
“They’re crampacked like sardines in there,” she said. “It can get overwhelming.”
In the warming center where she is staying now, at 213 E. Ermina Ave., she has space to stack her small collection of paranormal romance novels, her pink blanket and two bags of belongings. She can also sleep 15 feet away from the men she usually travels with. She said most shelters where she has stayed, men and women are completely separated or the shelters only serve one gender.
“I don’t think I would come here if I didn’t have a friend,” she said.
The Ermina Avenue center is likely the last of four new winter warming center to go online in the city for the season. The 52-mat center, which is managed by the Salvation Army, is scheduled to double its capacity today, increasing the network’s capacity to 275.
Gerriann Armstrong, the warming center’s manager, said from 40 to 50 people a night are staying at the shelter a night and Monday night, the shelter was at capacity. She said she expected that the number of people staying at the shelter would keep increasing every night.
Armstrong said few women stay at the shelter and the ones that do usually are apart of a mixed-gender group or have a partner they want to stay close to. The large, one-room center is separated into men’s and women’s sections by blue tape across the floor, but several of the couples staying in the shelter arranged their mats so they were touching across the tape. Even if they are separated, they still can talk to each other across the sections.
“They’re just happy to be in proximity to each other,” Armstrong said.
Kelly Keenan, the city’s director of community housing and human services, said there has been increased availability at the other shelters across Spokane after the warming centers came online, but the warming centers may not be the only factor influencing shelter capacity.
Sarah Yerden, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities, said the House of Charity has turned far fewer men away since January. From Jan. 1-9, the shelter turned away no one. Yerden said it was typical to have space at the beginning of the month, however, because that is when most people get their paycheck or Social Security payment. After Friday, the shelter had to turn a few men away a day, except Monday.
She said the shelter normally turns away 12 to 15 people a night around this time of year.
“The warming centers are making a difference,” she said.
Jon Carollo, director of development at Volunteers of America which, runs Hope House, said the women’s shelter typically turns away from seven to 15 people a night. Since the warming centers opened, they have had a bed or two available each night.
With a spot usually now available in the evening, he said, women in crisis who show up midday that missed the sign up in the morning are more likely to get a spot overnight.
Armstrong said the Ermina Avenue shelter is equipped with an electrical outlet every 3 feet and will soon have longer mats and other supplies. She said the Salvation Army has partnered with the Guardian Foundation to offer people who stay at the center transportation during the day to local providers of meals to the homeless.
She said she has also invited the neighbors in the area to stop by and have morning coffee with the people staying at the center.
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