Freezing Nights, a grassroots program among churches that provides warm shelter to the homeless, started its eighth season on Friday.
Program leaders say they are implementing the recommendations made by the Task Force on Homelessness, which convened during the summer.
“I think we’re doing a very good job of incorporating all of the recommendations into the guidelines,” said Paula Anderson, one of three advisors on Freezing Nights’ administrative leadership team. “It is improving the ministry, and there is just a good feeling about the ministry this year. I think we’re doing good things this year.”
A major recommendation suggested Freezing Nights and the City of Puyallup work together to identify a new pickup site for homeless individuals that would cause less impact on downtown businesses and neighboring areas.
“We will go out to where the homeless are located and pass out information about the new pickup site,” Anderson said. “What’s positive about the new location is that it’s not an area right off of Meridian in full public view. It’s not located next to a bunch of businesses, and it’s not located in a neighborhood. It’s removed from the downtown and the neighborhood areas.”
Anderson said Freezing Nights is not ready to make the location of the new pickup site known. Anderson said the organization was waiting on approval from key stakeholders before they made it public.
Another key recommendation that will be implemented is a rule about no loitering, littering or trespassing, Anderson said.
“This is something that will help the neighborhoods know that we are trying to be a good neighbor,” she said. “This is something that we do not want our Freezing Nights guests to do. They need to be respectful of other people’s properties.”
Anderson added there will be communication with the Puyallup Police Department should a homeless individual who participates in Freezing Nights commit a crime outside of the program during the day. In that case, there would be a “progressive disciplinary policy” put in place, Anderson said.
The task force also made a recommendation and based on public feedback to identify a location for a daytime drop-in center that would provide social services to the homeless.
“We are so open to having a drop-in center, if we could find a building,” Anderson said. “We’re looking at many different ideas and opportunities for funding. We want to be able to provide a place in the day time where people who are homeless can get the resources they need. That was a recommendation from the task force, but there was no kind of recommendation for where it would be, or how that would be funded.”
Amy Schweim, a member of Freezing Nights’ overseers’ group that advises the leadership team, said the task force recommendations were welcome.
“I’m very pleased with the process,” said Schweim, who also is a staff member at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Puyallup. “We’ve been asking for a lot of years for the city to help us with this and to form a task force. It took a while, but we’re pleased with this, and pleased with the leadership structure involved and the work they’ve taken on these recommendations.”
Both Schweim and Anderson said it’s difficult to forecast the number of homeless Freezing Nights will help this season.
“We hear there are some that are newly homeless that will be coming in,” Schweim said. “We get homeless that are from all across the county.”
Anderson said there are about a dozen churches that will provide space this season.
Freezing Nights provides a warm space each night from Nov. 1 through late March and sometimes into early April. Many churches also provide volunteers.
“We had four trainings for volunteers the past two weekends of October, and we had about 250 people go through the training,” Anderson said. “It was incredible.”
With an increasing concern for the region’s homeless, many other faith organizations in the South Sound are stepping up to provide shelter during the winter months.
“A group of churches in Enumclaw are starting a program on Dec. 1,” Anderson said.
Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.