Friday Harbor’s severe weather shelter in review

  • Tue Mar 13th, 2018 3:26pm
  • News

Submitted by the United Way’s severe weather shelter program

The United Way’s “Out of the Cold” Severe Weather Shelter program concluded its first year of operations on Tuesday, March 12.

Volunteers enjoyed many successes and learned necessary lessons over the course of 16 weeks of operation, putting into action all the systems and practices necessary to safely and effectively offer severe weather shelter to anyone who needed it, including the following accomplishments:

  • Established a working budget to include overnight stipends and supplies, based on a 25-night projected overnight openings;
  • Garnered over $11,000 in cash donations;
  • Secured use of a supplies van and cots from American Red Cross and appointed it with food, bedding and supplies for 10 overnight shelter guests, ready for use at any time;
  • Secured agreements from local churches for use of their facilities for shelter activations;
  • Marketed and promoted the program to the community via posters, fliers, press releases, and social media;
  • Trained 33 volunteers in the logistics and safety requirements for shelter activation;
  • Created a Sign Up Process and communication network with supporters and volunteers;
  • Alerted the community and assembled volunteer staff at times of approaching inclement weather;
  • Activated the shelter five times, for approximately 15 nights during stretches of cold weather.

The shelter program also endured necessary “growth pains”. It was not utilized much and there was general confusion from the community about when it was open and where it would be. Delays in promoting the Activations and of course our inability to predict exactly when cold weather would arrive and just how cold it would be also contributed to the ambiguity of the program. We attribute much of this to its newness, to island demographics, and of course to a lack of severe weather last winter.

Volunteers decided toward the end of the season to switch operations from an “activation” model to a “standby” model similar to EMS, which is clearer in scope and easier to advertise to our close-knit community. Next winter the shelter will change to this “Standby” model: A Winter Shelter phone number will be posted continually at 395 Spring St., promoted via social media and the online newspapers (among others) with the goal of establishing it as common knowledge in Friday Harbor that anyone needing shelter from Nov. 15 through March 15 can come in from the cold within 15 minutes, at any time that they require it.

Anyone wishing to volunteer can contact United Way at 360-378-4121 or

United Way has enjoyed so much support for the program via volunteer hours and cash donations, and wishes to thank the community for its clear support of United Way of San Juan County as we undertake to support the needs of fellow islanders.