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By now we’ve become accustomed to normal life being COVID-ed, but there are still moments when it’s “Oh, right, that won’t work under COVID rules.”

An example of that might be Kittitas County’s Cold Weather Shelter. Traditionally the shelter has rotated each night among seven participating churches.

The effort is under the aegis of the Kittitas County Ministerial Association but it has always involved other community groups and volunteers from inside and outside church organizations — Central Washington University students have been a solid source of volunteers.

But a seven-site cold weather shelter becomes problematic under COVID rules. Obviously, the individual sites would need to be cleaned and the network of contacts if there were a positive case would quickly become extensive.

People involved with the shelter program developed a plan to identify and establish the shelter at one location this year — on the property of the Grace Episcopal Church on B Street.

One of the reasons for the holding the shelter in multiple locations has been to spread and share the responsibility and work load, but it also eliminates the assumption that any one site is a homeless shelter.

The cold weather shelter differs from a homeless shelter. Guests check in during the evening and leave by 7 a.m. each day. Services have expanded over the years with FISH getting involved to provide meals. But the cold weather shelter remains a place to get out from the cold on a winter’s night.

There is not a designated space where people experiencing homelessness congregate during the day in Kittitas County, but there are some unofficial locations.

The Ellensburg Library has long been a place where a person experiencing homelessness could spend a portion of the day, if not most the day. Under COVID-19 rules the library is open, but only for in-and-out service.

Other businesses that have had seating for people have also restricted those areas. The bottomline is there will be fewer places this winter where a person experiencing homelessness will be able to shelter from the weather in Kittitas County during the day.

Kittitas County does not have a large population of people experiencing homelessness. There are some people who reside her year-round, but the shelter also serves people who are passing through.

As anyone who has wintered her for a season or two knows, the weather can be unforgiving for those who do not have shelter.

Like much of what we’ve experienced since this past March, there is an element of the unknown associated with how the county and the shelter will cope this winter under the COVID regulations. There might be an issue with people finding places to stay warm until the shelter reopens.

Any complications aside, the commitment of people to provide this shelter to those in needs remains impressive and worthy of our admiration and support.

It is easy to start thinking that kindness is in short supply during these decisive times, but the cold weather shelter and the people who will commit their time and energy to it over the winter serve as a reminder that comparison and caring still exist.


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