Pullman shelter seeks volunteers to support homeless community

Family Promise searches for warm-hearted volunteers to give back to those in need



Rev. Mary Beth Rivetti trains volunteers on how to best care for the guests in the new Pullman Warming Shelter on Monday night.

RACHEL SUN, Evergreen reporter

A new warming shelter opened in December 2018 provides a warm place to stay, outreach and meals for Pullman’s homeless community.

The shelter, which opened late December, is planned run each year between November and February when the temperature hits a low of 30 degrees or less.

It offers books, blankets and food provided by PNW Halal Meats and 15 cots for visitors spending the night.

The shelter is the first of its kind in the city, said Chris Tennant, Pullman police operations cmdr. Various private groups have provided warming shelters in previous years, but this time the warming shelter is a collaboration of government and private entities.

“For years the only available spot was the lobby of the police department. Which is warm. It has bathroom facilities, and it’s open 24/7,” he said. “We don’t necessarily go out and entice people to use our lobby, but we understand the need and it really is the only resource.”

The shelter, a collaboration between the Poverty Awareness Taskforce and Family Promise of the Palouse, will provide a better option for those looking to escape the cold, said City Councilman Nathan Weller.

“For someone who is homeless and who’s had run-ins with the law, maybe they have mental challenges, it is very stigmatizing,” he said.

The shelter has not had many visitors yet, but programmers are still working on getting the word out, said Katti Carlson, Family Promise executive director.

Many of Pullman’s homeless community aren’t as visible, so informing them can be harder, Carlson said. A large number couch surf or live in cars or out-of-the-way spots that are less noticeable.

“It’s certainly well-hidden,” Tennant said. “We’re not like Seattle or Spokane, where there’s homeless camps right in front of city hall.”

In other cases, some individuals may be deterred by social stigma or transportation difficulty.

“For a large portion of the population,” Carlson said, “[being homeless] is embarrassing, and it’s frustrating and it’s scary. A lot of people don’t want to bring their kids into the public eye so everybody knows that they’re homeless.”

Over the break, the warming shelter was visited by a Navy veteran on Christmas Eve, Weller said.

“I showed him some of the community resources,” he said. “What better way to spend Christmas Eve?”

Resources at the warming shelter can also help people get back on their feet even after their visit is over, Tennant said.

“It provides a place people can go, and then maybe get them funneled into some service we do have available, whether it’s food insecurity or something else,” he said.

Currently, the shelter relies entirely on volunteer hours said Mary Beth Rivetti, a volunteer and board member at Family Promise of the Palouse.

The warming shelter needs at least two volunteers on duty to operate, and in its first month the shelter was closed a few times when there weren’t enough people to keep it going.

“We’re still struggling,” she said. “[But] given the short time I’m very impressed with the number of people who have volunteered.”

It can also be difficult to find volunteers to fill the four-hour shift, Weller said. Prep work to open begins at 8 p.m., and the shelter closes at 7 a.m.

“Even the 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. is really difficult,” he said. “The challenge is we’re working on volunteers only.”

Coordinators are grateful for the volunteer hours and donations area residents have provided, Carlson said.

“It shows the community knows it’s needed — that they know we have a homeless population here,” Carlson said.

The shelter is continuing to accept volunteer applications, and those interested can apply online or contact Nathan Weller or Mary Beth Rivetti for more information.

“I would encourage people to get involved,” Tennant said. “I know it’s not a WSU warming center, but get involved in the community, become a volunteer. One night a week, go down and volunteer for four hours. Get your feet wet.”