Because no one should be left out in the cold.
For many years the shelters in Linn County have been able to open up extra beds when temperatures drop dangerously low. Only recently, however, have the various shelters and other homeless support agencies in Linn County had an effective system of communicating when these beds were being activated, when they were full, and where there were still openings.
In the summer of 2015, Willis Dady, Waypoint Shelter Services, and over 15 other agencies put their heads together to address the shortcomings of current cold weather shelter "system." The agencies needed to create clear guidelines for when extra beds would be opened, how many beds would be opened, how the public would find out about openings, how the shelters would communicate with one another when the extra beds were full (or where there were still openings), and what they would do if all extra beds were filled but there were still people in need off a safe place to sleep.
The result of the meetings was the Community Overflow Weather Shelter System, or COWSS for short. The COWSS committee decided to utilize Shelter Services' existing coordinated entry system to coordinate intakes for the extra beds at existing shelters and the activation of an additional, temporary shelter when necessary. When temperatures dropped below 32 degrees, Shelter Services would know how many extra people it could admit to each shelter and would send individuals there accordingly. Once those extra beds were filled or there was an individual who couldn't stay in one of the open beds (for example, a single male needed shelter but the only open bed was at a women-only shelter), Shelter Services would activate the temporary overflow shelter. Willis Dady agreed to fund and staff the overflow shelter, and after a generous donation by Linn County's 100+ Men Who Care, COWSS was up and running for winter 2015-2016.
During winter of 2017-2018, 470 people utilized overflow shelter beds for a total of 5198 nights of shelter.
After the 2016-2017 winter season, the COWSS committee met to discuss the system's successes and changes necessary for improvement. Through this discussion and additional funding, we were able to keep the shelter open from November 15, 2017 through March 15, 2018, no matter what the outside temperature was. This allowed for greater access and more people helped to avoid the bitterness of winter in a dry, safe location.
Open between 11/15/17 and 3/15/18
First, extra beds are opened at existing shelters
Second, an additional shelter is opened
The additional shelter is operated by Willis Dady