By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Talk about good timing.
Just a couple of weeks ago, expansion work at Union Gospel Mission’s Simonka Place in Keizer for women and children was completed.
Then came the cold overnight temperatures late last week, leading to increased need for shelters and warming centers around the area.
“With this cold snap, the prior week we were able to move into our new addition, which opened up other rooms,” said Jeanine Knight, director of women’s ministries at Simonka Place, located at 5119 River Road N. “The additional spaces we had couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Kyle Dickinson, vice president of advancement for UGM, noted women started moving into the new rooms over Thanksgiving weekend.
“It’s been great timing,” Dickinson said. “The need is so great in our community.”
Before the expansion, Dickinson said Simonka Place averaged 62 people a night, with a bed capacity of only 50. Now the average is 80 a night.
“That’s right at the capacity,” he said, noting Simonka Place is UGM’s only such facility in Keizer. A grand opening for the expanded section is being held next Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 3 p.m.
Knight said sleeping areas are kept open on cold days.
“Usually there are closed from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” she said. “We didn’t want to send people out into the cold. It has worked out. Most of the time we have had beds available.”
Knight said it was hard to tell if extra people came in due to the cold weather, but suspects the increase was due to need and the extra space.
“If more people came in, we wouldn’t turn them aside,” Knight said. “They really came in because of homelessness. We’ve been on overflow for about two years. We always had more people (above capacity) on mats. Now we have them on beds.”
While cities further south like Corvallis, Albany and Eugene got hit hard by the weather last weekend, the impact was less in Keizer. Snow last Friday morning led to afternoon kindergarten and preschool classes being canceled and Cherriots buses being put on snow routes. Slick conditions also led to schools in Keizer starting two hours late on Monday.
Jeff Kuhns, deputy chief with the Keizer Police Department, said his department responded to only one accident last Friday, with no indication it was due to weather.
“One good thing to remember, especially during inclement weather, many folks who get into non-injury fender benders don’t always call the police because the crash does not meet reporting requirements,” Kuhns said.
Bill Lawyer, Public Works director for Keizer, noted the Marion County staff takes care of sanding and de-icing roads for Keizer.
“Marion County crews did come to Keizer on Friday mid-afternoon,” said Lawyer, who noted the city pays the county on a time and material basis. “I am confident Marion County crews will address our needs as they have time and resources available. Typically we are their second priority after they complete their own roads. This has proven to be the most efficient and cost effective way to handle these operations, as they have all of the necessary equipment.”