Friday Harbor severe weather shelter secures locations

Correction: At press time, the Islands Community Church — at 127 Gilbert Ln. — was also confirmed as a location, but they are currently sorting out insurance issues before the location is set.

If temperatures drop dangerously low this winter, islanders without protection can use a new severe weather shelter with different locations.

Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church’s annex — located at 395 Spring St. — is one of four possible rotating shelter locations.

Individuals can stay in the churches and up to two families with children can stay at the San Juan Island Family Resource Center. Both are part of the same shelter program.

“We decided it would be more comfortable for families to be in a separate location from single people who might need shelter,” said Jennifer Armstrong, director of the family resource center.

Each location is for overnight stays when temperatures reach around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Shelter coordinator Winnie Brumsickle said the measurement varies and doors will open after she and other project committee members agree falling temperatures are a health risk for those without shelter or adequate housing.

“If it’s 34 degrees and it’s blowing like the dickens, someone could really suffer,” she said.

Notifications of the opening will be on posters around the island, the Facebook group “’Out of the Cold’ SJ Severe Weather Shelter Volunteers & Supporters,” and the local United Way’s answering service at 360-378-4121. Islanders can also call the United Way office to request the location for families or individuals to open.

Open hours will vary depending on the housing location’s scheduled activities. The shelter for individuals will accommodate up to 10, said Brumsickle, but more are welcomed and beds would be adjusted for additional guests on the next open night.

Some places cannot be used for a severe weather shelter because they are designated for disaster relief, said Brumsickle. For instance, the only room available at the San Juan Island Fire and Rescue building on Mullis Street is already set as the emergency operations center for organizations deployed to aid in disaster relief, said Fire Chief Brad Creesy.

According to San Juan County Housing Coordinator Ryan Page, the county had more homeless islanders in 2017, than ever recorded. Page said county staff have participated in a homeless count for a least a decade. The increase in numbers, said Page, is mostly due to the increase in volunteers to perform the tally. The county uses the state’s definition of “homeless,” for the count, which defines them as “people living outdoors, in a vehicle, or in a substandard structure lacking one of the following: drinking water, a restroom, heat, ability to cook food, or the ability to bathe.”

San Juan Island was home to another severe weather shelter over a decade ago, but it closed due to a lack of attendees, according to San Juan County Undersheriff Brent Johnson. He volunteered for the Friday Harbor shelter, which he said was operated by the Red Cross.

Brumsickle said each open night at the new shelter for individuals requires six volunteers. Those interested can train from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Dec. 9 at the Mullis Community Senior Center. Email Brumsickle for more information at The project is coordinated through a committee of community members, while Brumsickle and substitute shelter coordinators are paid through the United Way of San Juan County. Donations are collected through that 501(c)(3) as well.

Islanders can also donate at a Christmas concert at 3 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 16 at St. David’s Episcopal Church. No admission will be charged, but attendees can give monetary donations for the shelter.

“The support has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Brumsickle.

Armstrong emphasized that the shelter locations for families, as well as individuals, are for crisis situations only.

“This is not a shelter for families who are staying with friends or family and just want an alternate location for a few nights,” she said. “It really will be an emergency measure for families who are at risk of weather exposure without a sheltered place to stay.”