The first sight visitors see when they walk into the new warming center at 1433 West Sims Way is a smiling face.
Bryan Nash is the paid staff monitor at the center that opened Feb. 16, but he is also the welcoming committee. As soon as someone comes in from the cold, he’s helping them get what they need. The bathroom? A snack? A cup of hot coffee? Nash is there to help.
Inside, the warming center is quiet, like a library. Some people sit reading books, others nod off slowly in their chairs. Low chatter is interrupted by occasional bouts of laughter and in the center of the room, a game of chess is in session.
Nash is greeting people at the door and encouraging them to write down things they need on a wishlist. “Socks!!” has been crossed out as has “oatmeal packets” and “hot cocoa.” Other needs are waiting to be fulfilled, like cough drops, a mirror for the bathroom, and vitamins.
The warming center was opened two weeks after a woman living in a tent in Port Townsend died from hypothermia. It was created by members of the Jefferson Interfaith Action Coalition who saw a need in the community after the Boiler Room closed last summer.
“They’re just little ideas that are slowly bringing this place together,” Nash said. “People find out they can count on somebody to be there for them. That’s my hope.”
Like the people who are spending their mornings keeping warm at the center, Nash knows what it’s like to need a place to stay.
“Being in construction and maintenance for years, I have a huge resume,” Nash said. “But since my shoulder injury, I’ve been unable to do labor, which is what I was trained to do.”
Staying at the overnight shelter at the American Legion, operated by OlyCAP and COAST, Nash began to volunteer alongside community members and other shelter users.
“I just rose to the occasion and started cleaning bathrooms,” Nash said. “The kitchen was my strong point. When they realized I had quite a bit of kitchen experience, I got a food handler’s card.”
After cooking and cleaning at the shelter’s kitchen throughout the “snowpocalypse”—when the overnight shelter became a 24-hour shelter for two weeks—Nash was hired to monitor the warming center, which was created as a place for people to go after the overnight shelter closes for the day.
Open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., the warming center is operated by paid monitors like Nash and volunteer monitors from the Jefferson Interfaith Action Coalition.
Located next to Mt. Townsend Creamery and Bonita’s pet supply store, the space can hold 20 people at a time.
Pastor Paul Heins, from the First Presbyterian Church in Port Townsend, said the warming center has seen an average of 14 people each day for the three weeks it has been open.
“We’re trying to create an environment that is inviting and welcoming,” Heins said. “People can play games, do puzzles, use the computer, or just have a place to be.”
Marilyn Wells, a 75-year-old veteran who has been living at the American Legion shelter said she rides the bus to the warming center in the mornings.
“I can come here to regroup,” Wells said. “Just to sit down, inside somewhere safe and warm.”
While the warming center has been helpful for Wells in the winter, she worries about the shelter at the American Legion having enough funding to stay open year round.
“I’m trying to hold my own,” Wells said. “But I’m tired of struggling.”
Thirteen of the people staying at the overnight shelter are over the age of 62, said shelter manager Mike Johnson.
Heins said the warming center will be open until mid-May. At the end of the season, he said the interfaith coalition will evaluate the adequacy of the hours, and begin planning for the possibility of opening the center again next winter.
“It’s been gratifying to see the community come together and to have people of different faiths, working together,” Heins said. “It’s very heartening to see that in a day when there is so much divisiveness.”
Heins added that there are still needs, such as volunteers to monitor the center, people to help build a gravel path to the door, and items such as vitamins, socks and bus vouchers.
“We need community support,” Nash said. “People can stop in and check out the wishlist, to see detailed items that people can’t afford. We’re just trying to meet the needs.”
To make a donation, or to volunteer at the center, visit fpcpt.org/warming-center or call the First Presbyterian Church in Port Townsend at 360-385-2525.