The Sierra Nevada’s revolving door of low-pressure systems and atmospheric rivers can bring constant excitement in the winter months. The community waits in elated anticipation, hoping below-freezing temps deliver the perfect storm with cold, dry, light, and super fluffy powder dusting trees, roads, and rooftops, leaving not an inch to spare. Yet there is a subset of our friends and neighbors who dread times like these.
When severe weather beckons, it leaves those without housing in terrible danger. But just when they’re in need of a helping hand, the Truckee North Tahoe Emergency Warming Center is there to help.
Now entering its sixth season of sheltering displaced persons, the center started as a simple conversation about how there really should be such a facility to help house folks on winter’s worst nights when it is physically unsafe for anyone to sleep outside. The discussion began during a community meeting of United for Action, a group of partnering community organizations gathering monthly to discuss supporting the community’s needs for basic necessities like food and shelter, at Truckee’s Church of the Mountains. Church member Cathie Foley was at that meeting and was inspired to support the cause.
“In January 2014, an official count found there were 33 people sleeping outside on a really cold winter night,” Foley recalled. “Each year, there are people that pass away from this, with no shelters available. That group really decided we were going to tackle this … so we officially opened on Dec. 24, 2015. Our first season, we had 115 nights of shelter and served 24 people.”
When the opportunity presented itself, Foley says she thought about how she’d been blessed and supported through tough times in her own life as a single mom. She wanted to offer others that same type of support.
“A lot of these folks — some of them have lived here 15 years — really are a piece of the fabric of our community,” Foley said. “I’ve lived here a really long time … and I got to know a lot of our homeless neighbors. My role has always been to advocate for people.”
For the past five years, the organization has operated in a space at the downtown church, growing its offerings each year. Foley, her small staff, and volunteers open on nights that are 15 degrees or below, call for a foot or more of snow, or during other severe conditions like rain and wind. This year, the EWC has expanded again, officially adding the name “day center” to its title in March.
“Last year, instead of wrapping up [for the season], when COVID hit, we noticed that our neighbors had no place to go,” Foley explained. “So this year, we’ve opened up a day center.”
After just one month of being up and running, the center outgrew its Church Street space, so Foley, her staff, and guests bid adieu to their generous longtime hosts. Now temporarily located at the Truckee Veterans Memorial Building on High Street, they are searching for a permanent — and potentially even larger — facility.
The warming center is open three scheduled days per week, plus on emergency nights with severe weather forecasted. Guests are invited to do laundry, shower, and enjoy a warm meal, as well as access social services through partnerships with other organizations. And for the first time, the EWC is also proud to sponsor a short-term transitional housing opportunity for six medically vulnerable community members to get back on their feet.
Though the pandemic poses significant problems, this year’s COVID crisis has provided a silver lining: a chance to serve more people through day services, and to finally track numbers to hopefully secure bigger partners to help solve the greater problem — ending homelessness by housing those in need.
“The truth of it is … the only way to address homelessness is to provide people homes,” Foley said. “Until you have a few weeks of consistent sleep and food, you have a hard time putting your life back together. The whole piece of ‘housing first’ is really close to my heart [and] it’s doable. We don’t have thousands of people here like many communities do. It’s just going to take a lot of awareness, and a lot of people to believe that’s the right thing to do.”
The public is encouraged to get involved with EWC’s programs by staying aware of its needs through signing up for the email newsletter, which will keep subscribers up to date on current ways to support the center. Donations are also appreciated. For more information, contact email@example.com or go to Truckee North Tahoe Emergency Warming Center on Facebook.
Truckee Veterans Memorial Building 10124 High St., Truckee
10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Emergency Center: Open for check-in 6 to 8 p.m. for returning guests, with dinner at 6:45. New guests can check in after 8 p.m.