When it’s too cold for comfort, it’s easy for many of us to turn up the dial on our space heaters. But for those living without electricity, there aren’t many options for avoiding below freezing temperatures.

A story that appeared in The Observer last week reported a potential warming station’s need for a location. The effort could be life changing for people in town living without proper heating, but there are several valid concerns associated with bringing a warming station into any business district. In any case, this is an effort members of the community should keep their eyes on.

Poverty and homelessness are issues that plague communities around the globe, including right here in Eastern Oregon. At the La Grande School District, more than two students in a classroom of 25 are classified as homeless. While the numbers may not shake out that evenly, approximately 8.85 percent of LGSD’s students are living in substandard conditions, such as tents, trailers or houses without plumbing, electricity or a sound roof. This data, provided by the Oregon Department of Education for the 2016-17 school year, is only the tip of the iceberg. It does not account for the people living in La Grande who do not currently have children attending school. This population, however big or small it really is, needs a warm place to stay overnight.

That’s why Cami Miller and more than 50 other volunteers have been working toward the station.

So what’s the problem? There’s no location lined up.

Although churches are often the go-to option for warming stations, the churches in La Grande either have prior commitments at night or their insurance companies warn against it, Miller said.

While it is noble to urge any church or business to extend a helping hand, there is nothing wrong with a property owner considering liability.

You likely wouldn’t invite a crowd of complete strangers —- with no common acquaintances —- into your home every night. Especially if that crowd inevitably changed from night to night, never truly allowing you to get a handle on who is utilizing your space. Fortunately, the volunteers who are establishing the warming station would be responsible for keeping things running smoothly.

Another perfectly legitimate concern is whether the existence of a warming station would attract additional transients from outside of town, but many of the people who would benefit from a warming station are residents. They live here, they work here (or strive to) and their children attend school here.

If a location isn’t found immediately, Miller said, the group may have to focus on next winter. We sincerely hope there is a solution that works for all parties involved, and we encourage the members of this community to rack their brains for a suitable location. To contact Miller about a location, call 541-910-0374.

– Emily Adair contributed to this piece.

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