SPOKANE, Wash. - With temperatures heading toward single digits, spending too much time outside can quickly become dangerous. For those experiencing homelessness, accessing shelter becomes vitally important when Spokane's temperatures drop.
Julie Garcia runs Jewel's Helping Hands, which operates a warming shelter on Cannon Street. It provides almost 100 beds for those in need in Spokane, and they are a no-barrier shelter.
"We've opened up our capacity for this whole building is 98 including our staff, so we've lowered our staff down to four people at night that way we're still able to get as many people as we can," Garcia said.
However, people still spend the night on the streets in Spokane. With dangerous weather conditions in the forecast, Julie said they've reached capacity every night. When she has to turn people away, she helps coordinate with other shelters to find them another place to go.
"Getting people to and from is our biggest issue, they get here in the night time, getting them over to HOC or getting them over to Truth is really becoming an issue, we're just transporting all night long," Garcia said.
Jewel's Helping Hands has one of the earliest check-in times in Spokane to give people time to get to another shelter before check-in closes there, if they're at capacity.
The team at Jewel's Helping Hands also started a Google Doc that's posted to their Facebook page. They update it through the night to quickly tell everyone how many beds are left at the other shelters.
Eastern Washington 2-1-1 is supposed to be able to communicate the same thing, by checking their app or simply calling 2-1-1. However, that service relies on the shelters to report their capacity. If a shelter doesn't report how many beds they have left, 2-1-1 will report 0.
"Since the beginning, it showed 0 beds available for every shelter except the UGM, so when our houseless people get onto the 2-1-1 or they call, it's constantly telling them there's 0 beds available," Garcia said.
If she has to turn them away, the team at Jewel's Helping Hands gives them everything they can as they head out the door.
"We will give them blankets, coats, gloves, anything that will keep them warm through the night. we're just trying to keep people alive," Garcia said.
Every shelter in Spokane needs donations of winter gear with these weather conditions. If you have extra, feel free to donate to Jewel's or any of the shelters in town.