One of the many things that makes Walla Walla an interesting place to live is the weather. If you don’t like it, wait a minute — it’s always changing.
And perhaps it is because the weather can go from warm to cold to freezing in a 24-hour period, we don’t think of this Valley as a place where folks need to hunker down for a bitter cold winter. The icy conditions will pass, right?
Yes, but for those who are living in their cars or have no shelter, the subfreezing temperatures — such as those experienced this past week — can be more than an inconvenience, they can be deadly.
Thankfully, the few nights of extreme cold this winter have not taken lives. A reason for that is emergency shelter has been provided.
People in this community got together in December, and then again last week, to establish a warming center at First Congregational Church when the mercury dropped.
“The outpouring from the community was staggering,” the Rev. Cecilia McKean said in December. “ ... We had more volunteers than we had slots to put them. It was pretty amazing. I’m proud to live here.”
Yes, this is an extraordinary community, particularly when it comes to neighbors helping neighbors.
So as the community had to rally a second time this winter to get an emergency warming station established, some local advocates for the homeless — including Dorothy Knudson, Noah Leavitt and Norman Osterman — have wondered whether it made sense to establish a long-term warming shelter plan.
Spokane has one in place that results in shelters being opened when the temperature drops to 20 or below. While Walla Walla is not as large as Spokane, the model seems to one that could work here.
At nearly some point in every Walla Walla winter, the temperature gets close to, if not below, zero. It makes a great deal of sense to be prepared.
Organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Way have already gotten involved. That’s a good start.
This time around United Way coordinated the volunteers to staff the shelter and accepted donations of food and supplies.
Also this winter, the Walla Walla Council on Homelessness set up a walking tour of downtown in an effort to give people a glimpse at what it is like to be homeless in Walla Walla.
The tour was a success.
This community seems to be building toward long-term plans to meet the needs of the homeless on dangerously cold nights.
That would be another step forward in the quest to help those who find themselves, and their children, in difficult circumstances.