Here to Help, Springfield

Helping hands for unhoused: Ann’s Heart, Egan Warming Center need support

SPRINGFIELD — As the fall and winter months approach us, unhoused advocates are reminding community members that not everyone is guaranteed shelter during Oregon’s colder months. 

Homelessness has been a hot topic in Springfield, as well as the rest of the state, and as the winter comes, local advocates are working to keep Springfield’s unhoused community warm and safe.

One of those local advocates is June Fothergill, former Ebbert United Methodist Church pastor.

During Fothergill’s time at Ebbert, she played a significant role in the church’s meal program. 

Since 2008, Ebbert has provided meals to the unhoused community; however, last month, Ebbert held its final meal.

Alma Beck, Ebbert meal coordinator, said that Ebbert’s decision to end their meal program resulted from a lack of volunteers and an increase in loitering and illegal activity outside of the church. 

While Ebbert is no longer providing meals to the unhoused, larger projects have grown from the meal program, including Springfield’s first women’s shelter, Ann’s Heart, which Fothergill has worked to organize.

“The shelter grew out of our work (at Ebbert)… we heard a lot of stories from women who were having an especially hard time… So I got to thinking, why couldn’t we just get a house and house some of these women?” Fothergill said. Fothergill envisions a shelter that can house six women, trans or cis, and aid them in working through housing barriers, trauma, and their life goals.

St. Vincent de Paul initially fiscally sponsored the shelter, and it gained non-profit status in 2021. Since 2016, the Ann’s Heart board has been working to secure funding and a house through the state, city, and county, and the process is still ongoing. 

“We have to have a house, and the city still hasn’t agreed to sign the contract for the house yet,” Fothergill said, noting that she plans to discuss the matter at the Sept. 18 Springfield City Council meeting.  “We can’t really use the funding from the county until we have a place to open, so that’s where we’re at right now.” 

Kris McAlister, executive director of Carry It Forward, a non-profit that helps provide resources to the unhoused community, is working alongside Fothergill to open up the Ann’s Heart Women’s Shelter. 

“A low barrier women’s shelter is a big need in Springfield… recognizing that Springfield women need to come home in more than one way, we felt that this was a project we would always support,” McAlister said.

McAlister has firsthand experience with homelessness, as he was unhoused in Springfield starting at the age of 13, and his role as someone with lived experience with homelessness is instrumental in aiding the community. 

“The lived experience component allows for the services and products to be true in a way that education alone cannot yield. There’s a certain legitimacy and genuine engagement which comes from lived experience,” McAlister said. 

McAlister and Fothergill come from different life paths but share the same compassion and drive to help the unhoused community. While there are many stigmas surrounding the unhoused community, working one-on-one with people who are unhoused has helped Fothergill recognize the inaccuracies in stigmas. 

“One of the things I noticed is that people seem to be afraid of homeless people,” Fothergill said. “It makes no sense to me because who is the most vulnerable: the person having to sleep in a tent or on the street, or you in your house?”

Fothergill said that the issues the unhoused community is faulted for are only issues because they don’t occur inside the safety of a house. “Drug use, people yelling at each other and being loud, mental health breakdowns, all those same things happen to people who are housed, but we don’t usually hear about it,” she said. 

Fothergill recognized that the best way to break down pre-existing stereotypes and stigmas is by working firsthand with the unhoused community.

“I invite everyone to do that. If they can help out at a meal or go to the Egan Warming Center and help out or do something, you’ll just get to know people and realize these are just folks like you,” she said. “They are not that different from any of us; they’ve just had a rough time… Everybody’s got their own story.”

Fothergill’s advice comes at the perfect time, as while we enter the winter months, volunteer opportunities and ways to help are becoming more plentiful, especially regarding the Egan Warming Centers.

Egan, a program through St. Vincent de Paul, provides warming centers during the cold months for the unhoused community to stay safe and sheltered. In past years, the Springfield Memorial Building has hosted Springfield’s Egan Warming Center. 

However, this year, using the Memorial Building as a host site may not be in the cards, and Egan is on the search for a backup site.

Tim Black, the winter strategies coordinator for St. Vincent de Paul, hadn’t worked with the unhoused community before his role in St. Vincent de Paul and Egan. Still, since starting with St. Vincent de Paul in January 2019, he has gained valuable insights regarding Springfield’s homelessness situation. 

“It’s an issue of housing,” Black said. “It’s an issue of what your capacity in a community is at different income levels. It’s not related to how many people have substance abuse (issues) or how many people have mental health (issues).”

Black’s seen the way the work Egan does has benefited the community and has had people approach him and acknowledge Egan’s role in getting them back on their feet. 

“The mission of Egan Warming Center is super, super, simple. It’s just to provide a warm, safe place one night at a time… just so you can go on and live your life tomorrow, like everybody else,” Black said. 

Egan’s goal is never to try and force the unhoused community to live their lives differently, just to meet them where they are and keep them alive. 

This winter, Egan needs help keeping its operations running in Springfield. Egan has already held a meeting in search of a backup host site but is still looking for options. “We’re not picky,” Black said, “The point is to get out of the cold, so we just need a room that people can fit… A space that could accommodate 30 to 100 people with electricity, heat, and running water. That’s about it. We always promise to leave a site in at least as good of condition as when we found it.”

People can also help by volunteering with Egan. “Anybody and everybody can be a superhero this winter if they just want to give a little bit of their time to come and do nothing other than be a smile and hand somebody their bowl of soup,” said Black.

To volunteer with Egan and provide support for the unhoused community this winter, email [email protected]. To help provide aid for the Ann’s Heart Women’s Shelter, donate at or send donations to PO Box 499, Springfield, OR 97477.



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