Shelters stay open to help the homeless brave cold

Shelters stay open to help the homeless brave cold
March 05
00:00 2015

With temperatures dropping into the single digits and more than a few inches of our “Southern” snow this winter, shelters across the city are trying to keep those they service warm and out of the elements.

The city’s homeless population relied heavily on the organizations that are in place to assist them, and those organizations made sure to come through.

Officials with Samaritan Ministries, on E. Northwest Boulevard, made the decision to allow the men they service to stay in during the day. The shelter, which is also a soup kitchen, houses men at night for a maximum of 90 days. Typically, the shelter would close its doors at 7:30 a.m. and open them back up at 7 p.m.

“I told the guys on Thursday and Friday that they didn’t have to go out,” said Willis Miller, assistant director at the shelter. “We had a lot of guys who physically couldn’t go out there and walk to the day shelter. Once you get down to single digits, especially with the population that we are serving, it’s not good for them to be out walking.”

The nearest day shelter is at the Bethesda Center, on Patterson Avenue, almost half a mile away.

“Especially with a lot of the older men that we have in here. We definitely did not want them to go out there because they might not have made it there,” he said.

Miller said that the shelter has been full during the last two weeks, but it’s not out of the ordinary for them. On the days that the shelter remained opened during the day, the men housed there took full advantage of it.

They were cooperative with the daytime volunteers and helped anyway they could, according to Miller.

“The only time they would go out is to smoke cigarettes but they would come back in,” he said. “We just left the television on all day, guys could stay in their beds or come down and watch television, doing some reading or play games.”

Miller said that he’s sure that those at the Bethesda Center appreciated it.

“It kept Bethesda from being overcrowded. You have to think about the fact that not just our men go up there, but also other homeless men and women,” he said.

Bethesda is the only day shelter in Winston-Salem. It provides night shelter for men and women.

Shelter Director Carl Potter said that an increase of numbers is not a shock to them because they are used to seeing guests from other shelters.

With the Central Library being closed for renovations, many homeless people are not able to use the facilities in the daytime. They have, however, found other places to go.

“We always see a high volume. Now, instead of them leaving out or going to the library, they stay here,” he said. “We are a resource center, so we have computers and things that they could do.”

Potter said that the shelter received some relief from other shelters opening earlier so that those seeking a bed could get in earlier. He said it is that type of teamwork that helps alleviate what could be a problematic situation.

“We are all pretty much working together,” he said. “We all have the same goal. We were allowing people to come in early, take showers and get in their beds early.”

The shelter did prepare and see if they could house more people due to the extreme weather.

“We had the city come out and inspect some areas to see how many people we could have on mats just in case there was a serious overflow,” he said.

Another issue that the shelter found itself dealing with was food. Potter said that the organization does not typically provide meals but surrounding churches and nonprofits take on the task. With the inclement weather, a lot of those organizations were either closed or cancelled activities.

“We had to go out and buy bread and meat to make sure that we could feed them. We had to make sure we had enough food on hand for those not only in the night shelter but for our guests in the day, as well,” Potter said.

Potter said that the center has also seen an increase in those who come by during the day. He said that most people use the resource or reading areas if they can’t reach a smaller library.

The city is still working on its effort to end chronic homelessness. Over the last several years, the city has an average of 500 who may be homeless on any given night. Now in its eighth year, the plan has shown a decrease in chronic and veteran homelessness due to some of the programs in place.
This year, there was a 21 percent decrease in the number of homeless veterans that were served.

“Our program is showing that when you target programs to meet peoples’ specific needs, you really can end homelessness,” said Andrea Kurtz, director of the Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. “One of the things we know about homelessness is that about half of the people who come into the shelter, stay about two weeks, and don’t come back, so a lot of people use the system for what it’s designed for. It was working for a majority of people but not for the chronically homeless and veterans.”

Kurtz said that the community has a very small unsheltered population.She said another way the homeless count is measured is by the services that they receive.

“We identified 19 people who are living on the street. Most of the people are staying in some form of program,” she said.

“The total number of people that we saw last year for services was 1,760, a 4 percent decrease from the year before, but in 2013, we saw a 15 percent decrease.”

Kurtz said that she feels that the program is on track to meet their goals, but as long as there is someone homeless, their work is not done.

For more information on donating to these agencies, call Bethesda Center at 336-722-9951 or Samaritan Ministries 336-748-1962.

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Chanel Davis

Chanel Davis

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