Dangerous cold keeping shelters open around the clock

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Jan 2, 2018 at 11:44 PM

With Wednesday’s daytime high of 33 degrees the bright spot in this week’s forecast, local shelters are working overtime to protect everyone they can from the dangerous cold that has gripped the region.

On Tuesday, officials with the Salvation Army Center of Hope shelter on Ashe Street and Haven of Mercy shelter on West Millard Street both said their occupancy rates have been steadily increasing as the overnight lows have dipped lower.

Both shelters were at near capacity on Monday night. Both were expecting larger numbers to Tuesday evening, and both were prepared to make room for everyone who comes to their doors.

Scott Blevins, director of the Salvation Army Center of Hope, estimated about 60 people stayed in the shelter overnight on Monday.

“They are coming in. We’re filling up slowly. But we still have room. And we still have beds for those who want to stay,” Blevins said.

Bill Wade, assistant director of the Haven of Mercy, reported a nearly equal number at the Haven overnight on Monday. “We’re running right at capacity now,” Wade said. “We were a little more than 60 last night. We had a few cots out. But we’ll make room in something like this. To get them out of the cold, we’ll have to.

Blevins said those who wish to stay at the Salvation Army shelter may check in at any time although the preferred check-in time is 6 to 9 p.m. and the optimal check-in is immediately after supper in the Center of Hope kitchen.

For safety reasons, sobriety is an absolute rule at both shelters. Blevins said the Salvation Army has learned that “the longer (after supper) they stay out, the greater the chance they will start drinking and not come back at all.”

And in this kind of weather, staying out is a risk that can prove fatal.

Johnson City Police Sgt. Reggie Sparks told the Johnson City Press on Tuesday the cold spell has the city’s patrol officers keeping an eye out for anyone who may be staying outside in the frigid cold.

"We check people and let them know about shelter options," although some people prefer to stay outdoors, Sparks said.

For those who will go to the shelters, special accommodations are being made to protect them from the the daytime cold this week as well.

(Press Senior Reporter Becky Campbell Contributed to this report)

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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