‘People freeze to death every year’: Yakima shelters critical during harsh winters

YAKIMA, Wash. — There’s nearly 1,000 people experiencing homelessness in Yakima County and it’s estimated at least one in four are living on the streets, which can be dangerous and potentially fatal as temperatures start to drop.

“The reality is, people freeze to death every year,” said Brian Ahern, interim executive director for Rod’s House. “Every winter, people freeze to death in this community and this shelter is aimed at preventing that.”

Rod’s House operates an annual youth emergency winter weather shelter just for 18- to-24-year-olds. Ahern said it arose out of  a need for young people to have a space they feel comfortable coming to for help.

“They feel safer when they are with their peers, when they have youth-focused and young people specific activities,” Ahern said.

In the past, the nonprofit has partnered with motels and churches to provide the needed space. This year, the emergency youth shelter is at the Days Inn at 1504 N. 3rd St. in Yakima.

“It’s not a 24-hour operation; it’s overnight,” Ahern said. “So young people can check in to the shelter anywhere from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.  and then they are asked to leave by about 8 a.m.”

Ahern said plans are in the works for a permanent shelter that could house both minors and young adults, but it will be a while before such a facility could open to the public.

In the meantime, local shelters are looking to the community to help keep people safe and warm in the frigid temperatures. Rod’s House needs donations of winterwear like coats, jackets blankets and sweats.

Camp Hope director Mike Kay said they need toilet paper, oversized sweatshirts and lots and lots of blankets.

“They don’t have to be new, as long as they’re usable and clean,” Kay said.

Kay said he hopes everyone in the community will keep an eye out for their neighbors and call for help if they see people living on the streets who seem like they may be in need.

“If someone’s not comfortable approaching somebody, they’re welcome to call here,” Kay said. “Sometimes, it’s just a matter of somebody just simply picking up the phone call saying, hey, there’s somebody on this corner that looks like they could use some help. And we’ll take it from there.”

To reach Camp Hope, call their 24-hour hotline at 509-424-1228. Rod’s House can be reached by calling 509-895-2665.