Johnson City shelters fortified for cold and urging everyone to come inside

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Dec 28, 2017 at 10:56 PM

With overnight temperatures forecast to drop into the teens and single digits through the end of next week, Johnson City’s homeless shelters are encouraging everyone to come in from the cold.

At the Salvation Army Center of Hope at 400 Ashe St. Thursday, a normally empty dorm room and more than a half-dozen cots had been made ready for the additional guests the cold was expected to bring in.

Jim Stark, who works the door at the Center of Hope, said the shelter has had quite a few residents for the past several nights and that “each night it gets colder, the more people come in.”

The shelter’s white flag, which goes up whenever temperatures drop below freezing as a signal of the danger, had been flying day and night since early in the week. And with the temperature hovering around 14 degrees at breakfast time on Thursday, everyone was welcome to stay in for the day, although many chose to leave.

“It’s awful cold out, but people are going to make their own decisions. And you have to respect those decisions,” said Mary Ann Moore, a veterans program caseworker at the Center of Hope who will join representatives of other local homelessness programs Friday in a weekly visit to the city’s known homeless camps.

“On Fridays we look,” Moore said. “We go as a group and, generally, what we do is call out to them and tell them we’re outreach workers and ask if they need anything.”

“Some people want to be helped and some people don’t want to be bothered,” she said. “If they don’t want us to enter their camp, we tell them we are leaving them something right there and we leave them packs with bottled water, pop-top cans (of food) that don’t require a can opener, bags of peanuts and other high-protein things.

“We leave them brochures from the resources we represent with the phone numbers of people who can help them. We give them blankets and hoodies, as many as we have. And we tell them it would be good for them to come in out of the cold.

“But for whatever reason, whatever it is that has happened to them in their lives, there are a lot of people who have been out there alone for so long, they don’t even want you to get close to them.”

For those who will come in, Moore said, “This is a wonderful shelter. It’s warm and it’s clean.”

For those who will not stay, the Center of Hope gives away as many blankets as possible.

“That’s for everybody,” Salvation Army Capt. Michael Cox said of the shelter. “There’s plenty of room. And as cold as it is, there’s no reason for anyone to be outdoors.”

In addition to warm blankets, Stark said twin sheets, pillows and towels are always in high demand at the Salvation Army Center of Hope, and even more so when cold weather increases its population.

The Haven of Mercy at 123 W. Millard St. was also bracing for the coming cold snap on Thursday and “praying in blankets” for those who will and will not stay.

Bill Wade, the Haven’s assistant director, said the shelter had been housing a steadily increasing number over the past few days, and while it had not yet brought out its cots, it is prepared to do so on an as-needed basis.

“We can put more in our chapel if we need to. We have blankets and, if anybody needs one, we’ll come up with one.”

Most of (those who are street homeless) know we are here. They do have to be sober and we do have rules. But so as long as they aren’t drunk or anything, we won’t turn anyone away.”

Evening check-in begins at 4 p.m. and a hot supper and breakfast are provided.

For those who wish to help the Haven during this coming week of high demand, Wade said, “We operate by donations and our needs continue all the time.”

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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