Brothers Jeff and Richard Williams layer up against the cold in their shared tent Wednesday afternoon in Arlington. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Brothers Jeff and Richard Williams layer up against the cold in their shared tent Wednesday afternoon in Arlington. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

As shelters fill, many endure the cold in tents and vehicles

All week, highs have hovered in the 20s in Everett. Meanwhile, another shelter rushed to open Wednesday at a Marysville church.

EVERETT — Since Christmas Eve, the Everett cold weather shelter has filled up “exponentially,” manager Jeremiah Swartz said.

The number of occupied beds jumped from the 50s to nearly 150, as temperatures plummeted and snow blanketed the region. That includes the permanent and emergency cold weather beds the Everett Gospel Mission runs.

“I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this,” Swartz said.

Meanwhile, another shelter rushed to open Wednesday at a Marysville church, becoming the only overnight shelter in the northern part of the county during the cold snap.

All week, a “modified Arctic front” has plunged nighttime temperatures into the teens around Puget Sound, said National Weather Service meteorologist Reid Wolcott. Highs have hovered in the 20s — never eclipsing 26 degrees at Paine Field.

“We’re as cold as we’ve been in 10 to 20 years,” he said.

Everett saw as much as 7 inches of snow, and 1 to 3 inches more was expected Wednesday night into Thursday. Icy roads likely won’t begin melting until Saturday afternoon.

Some shelters across Snohomish County have neared capacity. But Lisa Utter, who oversees the South County cold weather shelter, said some warming sites are being underused.

“I think there’s a lot of people toughing it out,” she said. “There are a lot more homeless people here than there are shelter beds.”

At least 1,100 people were unsheltered in Snohomish County, according to the latest point-in-time count. The county’s cold weather shelter system has 145 beds.

Lynnwood’s Hygiene Center welcomed some locals Wednesday afternoon. There, the Jean Kim Foundation offers warm food and showers. This week, a locker room “shower station” was converted into a warming room, with plug-in heaters chugging away.

“I’ve been homeless for 24 years and this is the coldest it’s been,” said one man inside, who identified himself only as John.

John keeps small heater lamps in his van to stay warm. He’ll run the van before bedtime to heat it up, but the cold has been waking him each morning at 3 a.m. on the dot.

One man leaving the Hygiene Center said he was unaware of local daytime warming locations. David, who declined to give his last name, said he has slept in a nearby tent. The shed he was staying in burnt down before the onset of the cold weather.

A thermal blanket was thrown over top of the tent. A small camp stove ran inside.

“It’s a work in progress,” he said.

Two miles away, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Edmonds was converted into a daytime warming center. It was the church’s first time ever offering the service, Deacon Jim Gilman said.

“We’ve never had this cold of weather before,” he added.

When temperatures were predicted to fall dangerously low last week, a bishop at the regional Diocese called on parishes to open their doors.

On Wednesday, Gilman sat near a Christmas tree as two guests slept on the floor.

In Monroe, the cold weather shelter had close to 20 of the 30 beds filled each night since the cold snap began, and the Snohomish shelter has only had about four to six beds remaining most nights, said Lynsey Gagnon, executive director of community resource centers at Volunteers for America.

The VOA helps operate both shelters and is seeking volunteers to pick up shifts through the winter.

In the northern end of the county, there hadn’t been a cold weather shelter since 2019, until Wednesday.

Marysville resident Terri Molstad, 55, said she called around looking for shelter last year, but ended up staying in her car. She could’ve tried to get to shelters in other parts of the county but she said there’s limited space.

“I always feel like somebody else needs it more than I do,” she said.

On Tuesday the alternator in her car went out, and she couldn’t run it to stay warm.

“My fingers felt like they were going to fall off even though I had gloves on,” she said.

Molstad lives with a disability as a result of a stroke, and her monthly Social Security check is her only income.

Granite Falls native Jennifer Ren, along with her partner and daughter, have also spent the last two years in their SUV or a tent.

“We’d save as much money for gas as we could to stay warm,” she said. “It’s amazing how many people you see homeless sleeping in their cars when you’re out there doing it yourself.”

Thankfully, she said, they got into a shelter earlier this month.

But many are still out there in their cars each night, some without gas money to heat their car, said Jenny Roodzant, social services coordinator at the Salvation Army of Marysville/Tulalip.

At least a half-dozen people in the Arlington area have been living outside in the freezing temperatures.

Arlington resident Amanda Selset, 39, said after she lost her car, she was using hand sanitizer to start fires for warmth.

Richard Williams enters the tent he shares with his brother Wednesday afternoon in Arlington. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Richard Williams enters the tent he shares with his brother Wednesday afternoon in Arlington. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Richard Williams, who has been living in a tent in Arlington since the pandemic began, said he recently caught his pants on fire trying to huddle against a lantern for warmth. Over the past week, several Marysville and Arlington residents told Roodzant they were turned away from full shelters in other parts of the county.

Molstad, along with two other North County residents, were given a five-night stay at a motel Tuesday night thanks to a donation to the Marysville/Tulalip Salvation Army.

“I’ve been homeless for over a year, two years,” Molstad said. “And you just got to get used to it … you get used to being in your car. You have no money and you can’t take hot showers. I take a bird bath with cold water and you know it’s hard to even do that because it’s so cold. … I’m very thankful that people are there, a few that will help you.”

People seeking shelter in Marysville had another option Wednesday night after Generations Community Church Pastor Craig Laughlin announced the church would open its doors at 8240 64th St NE.

“It has been a scramble,” Mayor Jon Nehring said. “We had kind of given up on anyone volunteering to run a cold weather shelter.”

Over the past year or so, “there was just nobody able or willing to do it,” the mayor said. Laughlin’s church “stepped up to the plate to make it happen.”

Laughlin said the church was asked about hosting people on Monday. By Wednesday afternoon, the fire marshal’s office was out inspecting the building. Typically, planning for these programs takes months of work, Laughlin said.

The pastor believed the church can shelter up to 50 people between two rooms.

Craig Laughlin with the supplies used for the shelter at Generation Community Church on Wednesday afternoon in Marysville. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Craig Laughlin with the supplies used for the shelter at Generation Community Church on Wednesday afternoon in Marysville. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Social workers embedded in the Marysville Police Department will be on-site, and the church is still looking for volunteers to keep the program running through the winter months.

But the shelter will only be open for this winter freeze. The city is still looking for a private entity, preferably closer to town, to volunteer to run a permanent emergency shelter.

“The gospel of Jesus is about being like Jesus. He cared for the powerless and the poor,” Laughlin said. “I’m by nature going to take a risk. I mean, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? They’re going to say no? The best that could happen is we save somebody’s life and keep them from freezing. So that’s not hard math.”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @yawclaudia.

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

Shelter information

Snohomish County’s cold weather shelters generally open when overnight temperatures are projected to dip below 34 degrees. County officials update their online listing daily to reflect which shelters are opening their doors:

Bothell United Methodist Church at 18515 92nd Ave. NE will be open as a warming center through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In Edmonds, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church at 21405 82nd Place W will be open this week for warming from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Those ages 12 to 17 looking for shelter should call Cocoon House at 425-877-5171.

The Everett family cold weather shelter at 5126 S. Second Ave. serves nine families, with intake from 4 to 8 p.m. Contact for more information.

The Everett cold weather shelter at 2624 Rockefeller Ave. has 75 beds. Intake is from 6 to 8:30 p.m. It’s open as a warming center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Contact: 425-977-9686.

The Snohomish cold weather shelter at 210 Ave. B has 18 beds, with intake from 8 to 10 p.m. Contact: 206-606-3573.

There is a cold weather shelter in south Snohomish County. If you have transportation, call 206-743-9843 for the shelter location. Van pickup schedule: 7 p.m. at Lynnwood City Hall; 7:05 p.m. at Lynnwood’s Trinity Lutheran Church; 7:20 p.m. at the Value Village sign west of Highway 99. The van schedule is shifted two hours later on Wednesday nights. Volunteers are still needed to run the shelter. Interested volunteers should contact Reina Hibbert at

The Monroe cold weather shelter at 1012 W Main St. has 25 beds, with intake from 8 to 10 p.m. Contact: 206-606-3573.

In Marysville, Generations Church will welcome guests from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at 8240 64th St. N.E. After 9:30 p.m., people must be accompanied by law enforcement for admittance. Those seeking shelter can go to the Marysville Police Department for transportation.

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