Andrew Frick was among approximately 40 volunteers attending training Saturday at the new Rochester Community Warming Center.
“I saw a need and realized I had the availability and privilege to be available to help,” he said as the day’s second group of volunteers prepared for training.
Nearby, Karen Cavert and her daughter, Kelsey Budahn, filled out volunteer paperwork.
“She talked me into it,” Cavert said.
Budahn said she originally planned to volunteer at the Salvation Army’s warming center but discovered the new nightly center at 200 Fourth St. SE was looking for volunteers.
Tom Parlin, program manager for Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota’s local Parish Social Ministry, said Saturday’s volunteers were among approximately 75 trained in the past week.
The number is less than half the original goal, but Parlin said he expects to be able to open the doors in the Olmsted County-owned building by Sunday as scheduled.
“The 75 we have seem very committed and excited about this,” he said, noting he hopes additional outreach will find community partners to provide teams of additional volunteers.
No new training sessions are scheduled, but they are expected to happen as needed.
Parlin told volunteers that Catholic Charities could start providing warm beds earlier in the week as a way of ironing out potential wrinkles before Sunday.
“There are like 200 details to be worked out,” he told volunteers Saturday, noting much of the big work has been completed. “We’ll have the small stuff to get done early next week.”
OVERFLOW OPTIONS SOUGHT
One potentially not-so-small concern is what will happen if people looking for beds outnumber the 30 spaces available (15 bunk beds).
A recent survey points to a need for an overflow plan. The three-day survey identified 106 unsheltered residents in Rochester.
Trent Fluegel, Olmsted County’s housing resource coordinator, said Saturday that the county and local agencies have found housing options for many of the people contacted, but the number that will come to the warming center on a given night this winter remains uncertain.
Catholic Charities recently added a fourth night-shift manager to ensure staff is available when an emergency overflow center is needed. Fluegel said he’s working with city staff to find space.
The latest discussions have centered on the Soldiers Field Golf Course clubhouse, but details haven’t been finalized and other options have been considered, including the former fire station in Silver Lake Park.
Rochester City Administrator Steve Rymer said it’s too early in discussions to have a final decision on the Soldiers Field location, but he noted it was considered worth pursuing.
Fluegel said any overflow warming center will likely use floor mats, rather than bunk beds, and transportation options are being considered.
With frigid temperatures expected this week, the Salvation Army is filling the warming center gap by providing an emergency center Monday and Tuesday at its community center, at 20 First Ave. NE. It will be open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
On Saturday, volunteer training was largely focused on work at the warming center.
The center is considered a “low-bar shelter,” meaning it doesn’t require guests to provide identification or take breathalyzer tests. However, it does require a bit of paperwork during the first stay.
Intake forms will be filled out with whatever information the guests want to provide.
“They are not required to fill out every part of it,” Parlin said of the forms, which are accompanied by a list of rules and regulations of the center, as well as a copy of its termination policy.
“We don’t have a ton of rules, but we have ones we expect to be obeyed,” Parlin said, noting most are in place for the safety of guests, volunteers and staff members.
Among the rules is the requirement that guests lock up their belongings, including coats, in individual lockers during the night. Parlin said they can remove items throughout the night, if needed, with the help of volunteers or the night staff.
Fluegel said it’s a process that is similar to what has been happening at the Salvation Army’s emergency warming center in recent years.
Parlin said it’s a common security measure at other centers, including Catholic Charities’ operation in Winona.
“Anybody who is new to being sheltered may question it,” Parlin said, but noted that most people seeking such facilities are familiar with the practice.
Another safety measure calls for only allowing guests to arrive at the facility from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. After that, additional intake will be limited to people referred by police officers.
One other exception is for anyone whose job makes it impossible to show up by 10 p.m.
“We want them to have jobs,” Parlin said. “That’s a way out of poverty if they have employment.”
Once guests are in the center, they will be able to shower, wash their clothes and grab something to eat from prepackaged, donated food items.
At 11 p.m., lights in the sleeping area will be turned out, but guests can stay in the entry area as long as they want.
Guests can also leave at any time, but they will not be allowed to return to avoid disrupting the operation, Parlin said.
At 6 a.m., guests will be woken up and expected to leave by 7 a.m., which provides them a chance to go to the Dorothy Day House for breakfast or Salvation Army on weekdays for coffee and pastries, Fluegel said.
It was a lot of information for volunteers to take in within an hour, but Parlin noted at least one of four night-shift managers will be at the center during the hours it’s open.
To ensure the doors stay open, at least one volunteer will be needed at all times.
Parlin said anyone interested in volunteering or donating items for the center can contact the center’s coordinator, Tricia Kramer, at (507) 287-2047 or by email at TKramer@ccsomn.org.