Volunteers, warming center caught in quandary

SPRINGFIELD – St. Vincent de Paul’s Egan Warming Center at the Memorial Building at 765 A St. had self-proclaimed “rogue” volunteers who chose to keep the center open past its usual closing time of 8 a.m. on Jan. 16.

John Helmer, who has been volunteering with Egan for about eight years, said there were seven exhausted volunteers taking care of about 100 Springfield residents who were either unhoused or newly unhoused due to ice storm damage. He said it would have been inhumane for the volunteers to close shop, so they acted independently from SVdP and remained open for a few more hours.

His grievances were toward the City and County, not SVdP, for a lack of emergency assistance and preparedness.

“Perhaps most appalling, the City of Springfield and Lane County, knowing Egan was out of volunteers and at the end of its rope, failed to open City Hall or any other public building in Springfield, in essence telling us to send people out into the cold on Tuesday,” he wrote in a statement to the Lane County Board of Commissioners.

Springfield assistant city manager Neil Laudati clarified that Springfield has had community resources available throughout the storm, specifically mentioning that the City Hall lobby was open from 1-6 p.m. last Tuesday. The City’s hours of operation and ways of supporting the community just might not have aligned with Egan’s ideal vision.

“I just want to be really clear,” he said. “We appreciate the Egan volunteers, and the City Hall lobby was open several days during the ice storm, any day we could get it open with a skeleton crew.”

David Loveall, vice chair of the Lane County Board of Commissioners, was explicitly mentioned by Helmer as someone who was contacted for assistance to no avail. Loveall’s concerns centered around Helmer placing blame during a statewide emergency that caused unprecedented devastation. He also emphasized that the County did not have the resources to assist Egan last week.

“They’re trying to blame somebody for their operation not being staffed in a crisis. I think there’s a dark notion that happened during this crisis that the government is responsible for bailing everybody out,” Loveall said. “I have nothing bad to say about these volunteers, but don’t blame the City or the County for a crisis that we couldn’t manage in the moment that your mandate actually created.”

The mandate Loveall alluded to is Egan’s set hours, which are not dictated in its lease with the City. Egan’s set hours, which state that it will close at 8 a.m., are courtesy of SVdP.

Regardless of the tension between stakeholders, they all agree on one thing: Everyone needs to prioritize emergency preparedness in the future so a catastrophic event like this ice storm can be better mitigated. Discussions on the best way to spread emergency preparedness within the Springfield community are underway.



View this profile on Instagram


The Chronicle (@thechronicle1909) • Instagram photos and videos