In January 2016, the Idyllwild Warming Center was moved by the Community Action Partnership from the American Legion Post 800 where it had been for six years to Town Hall.
Town Hall is not open at night, as the American Legion was when it hosted the warming center. Also, Town Hall hosts a variety of town events and acts currently as a headquarters for parcel tax-funded community recreation. Children are often on the premises during the day.
Recreation Director Bob Lewis acknowledged the challenge of mixing populations (recreation users, including children, and those needing a warming center) could be met by shifting people from upstairs to downstairs if needed, but pointed out that Town Hall’s future as a venue for community recreation or as a warming center is unclear for 2017.
In 2010, after a significant winter-storm power outage, the American Legion Post 800 signed a memorandum of partnership with CAP of Riverside County to host an Idyllwild Warming Center. The warming center was the idea of community residents and not, originally, of CAP. At the same time, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Legion and Mountain Disaster Preparedness was created to use MDP’s communication network to inform residents when the center would be open.
In December 2011, a committee composed of Legion and MDP members drafted an activation protocol, with support from the Idyllwild Fire Department’s then-Chief Norm Walker that specified when and under what conditions the warming center would be opened.
CAP agreed to supply blankets and hot chocolate. The Legion agreed to staff the center during periods of activation, including at night when it is most necessary on the Hill.
Post Commander Danny Richardson, who was involved in the original negotiations with CAP, said the center was not intended to be an overnight residence for homeless, but would be used as a warming center when opened under the agreed activation protocols.
In January 2016, CAP and the county’s Health Department moved the warming center to Town Hall, which is not open at night. “We were never officially notified the center would be moved,” said Richardson. “Somebody just decided it should be moved and it was moved. We were ready to continue. I tried to explain that having it at Town Hall made no sense since it isn’t open at night, and we could be and we had volunteers in place to staff the warming center.”
Jose Arballo Jr., Riverside Public Health public information officer, speaking for CAP, said, “The reason the center was moved was because we could not work out an agreement with the American Legion.”
“That is not true,” said Richardson. “We were prepared to continue.”
Nancy Layton, who with Richardson was involved in the 2010 and 2011 negotiations to establish the warming center at the Legion and create activation protocols, said, “It was a fait accompli. They just moved it. When it was pulled, we were in the process of creating a warming center manual and had a committee of people in place to run it. The nuts and bolts were in place.”
Layton commented that CAP is off the Hill, not in touch with Idyllwild winter temperatures and, therefore, not in the best position to understand Hill needs or activate an Idyllwild Warming Center based on CAP off-Hill standards and protocols. “We [Hill residents] were the ones, along with the [Idyllwild] Fire Department, who were capable of making those [activation] decisions and we had protocols in place for doing so.”
Layton and husband Rick Foster are moving off the Hill for health reasons but Richardson and the Legion remain committed to assisting Idyllwild residents and providing a viable warming center that meets Idyllwild winter conditions.
Richardson, who has been post commander for the past three years, said the Legion believes hosting a warming center that can be open in the evenings would best serve the community, even if it is on an “unofficial” basis. “We still have emergency firewood we stocked in to give to people who came to the center — not a cord or anything, but enough to help them for a few days. And we’ve bought stuff for stew and other food to make available to those coming to the warming center.”
Richardson said those who use the center are expected to respect post property. “We did have one incident with a homeless man who came to use the warming center but became unruly and started throwing things around,” said Richardson. “He was asked to leave, but that is the only incident like that we had.”
So “official” or not, Richardson said the Legion will provide a viable warming center that could be open when most needed.
Meanwhile, according to Arballo, the agreement CAP has with Town Hall is likely to expire at the end of December and that, as of this writing, there is no “official” CAP warming center alternative for 2017.
Arballo said Town Hall was used from mid-January to March and logged in 20 warming-center visitors during that period. Arballo also noted that there were “no reported incidents last season of those using the facility as a warming center and other users of the facility.”
CAP representative Olga Sanchez, who was directly involved in the decision to move the warming center in 2016, has not responded to requests for information.