With freezing temperatures in Eugene throughout December, people living on the streets were particularly vulnerable.
On Dec. 22, 2022, the City of Eugene declared an ice/snow emergency due to freezing rain covering the streets.
A week earlier, St. Vincent de Paul opened up its Egan Warming Centers to give unsheltered people a warm place to sleep on nights below 30 degrees.
The program provides meals and assistance to unsheltered individuals who are welcome to come and go.
“The work of volunteers is absolutely critical,” Terry McDonald, the executive director of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, said. “If we did not have that base, these programs would not exist and people would be dying on the streets.”
Egan Warming Centers are primarily volunteer-based, but there has been a lack of trained volunteers, McDonald said. Despite this, the warming centers still opened.
“Protecting the unhoused when it’s really cold is what’s happening. We had to draw the line somewhere…We don't have people dying on the streets,” he said.
For youth who needed shelter from the cold, the non-profit Looking Glass also known as New Roads, provided showers, lockers, laundry and meals at its drop-in center in addition to providing a warm place for youth to stay, Looking Glass Marketing and Development Director Tyler Mack said. These services are even more vital during the winter months, he said.
“During the winter months, our team goes out proactively and hands out water and socks to try and get them to come into New Roads,” Mack said.
Lane County Public Information Officer Jason Davis said the colder months are a life or death situation for those who are unsheltered. The county is facing an increase in needs for services during cold weather but people may not know where to find them, he said.
“Oftentimes, what happens with the unhoused during the winter is that there are resources that are available that go unused,” Davis said.
Davis said many who are unsheltered do not have social media and rely on word of mouth to find these resources.
Throughout the winter season, Davis said Lane County receives money from the state to provide people tents, warm socks and gear to help survive the weather.
“We want to be the backbone to help,” Davis said.