Winter refuges: Johnson City shelters make room for more

Sue Guinn Legg • Dec 28, 2012 at 10:40 AM

The recent cold temperatures have filled the beds in Johnson City’s two emergency shelters to capacity. Cots have been set up to accommodate the overflow. And both shelters are making room for more as they encourage everyone who is sleeping outdoors to come inside.

Scott Blevins, director of the Salvation Army shelter, 200 Ash St., said the shelter has been at capacity, housing 108 men, women and children nightly since early last week.

The number includes 11 children who have been in the shelter for more than two weeks, and Blevins said five more children are expected this weekend, which will match the record high number of 16 children that were housed at the shelter earlier this month.

With overnight lows expected to drop into the teens by Sunday, Lainey Howard, donor relations director for the Salvation Army, said, “We do not want anyone sleeping out in the cold. We want them to come inside.”

The white flag, which signals when overnight temperatures will be below freezing and no one will be turned away, is in place outside the shelter. Howard said the army is prepared “to do as much as we can for as many as we can.

“We can put more people on our couches or on cots in our hallways if we need to. Or we can help them find another place to stay,” she said. “Our shelter is an emergency shelter for people to come to when there is an emergency. And extreme cold is an emergency,” she said.

At the Haven of Mercy Rescue Mission, 123 W. Millard St., approximately 50 men stayed in the shelter Wednesday night. Thomas Squires, who was working at the front desk on Thursday, said there was room for as many more who need it.

“We’ve always got room,” Squires said. “Our mission is to help people and to change people’s lives and we’re not going to turn anyone away at any time, no matter if it’s cold or not.

“The past couple of nights have been pretty chilly. People who usually prefer to sleep outside have been coming in asking if they can spend the night with us. We put one cot out. But if it’s really cold, we can put 30 or 40 cots in our dining room so we’ll always have room.”

With more people coming to the shelters because of the cold, resources are in greater demand and donations to help meet the increased need are also being welcomed.

At the Salvation Army, Blevins said the greatest need is for bedding — blankets, twin sheets, pillows and pillow cases, towels and baby supplies, including diapers of all sizes.

Howard said, “These are things that we share with other agencies that need them. We give them to people who are leaving the shelter and to people who come to our window and ask for them. We just go through them so fast, especially when the white flag is out.”

At the Haven of Mercy, Squires said blankets, towels and breakfast items, including milk and eggs, cereal, pancake mix and syrup, are the items most needed.

“We go strictly on donations and Food Lion and Kroger have been big supporters for us and really blessed us with meats,” he said. “We also had an outpouring of jackets this year and we have some coats left from Christmas if anyone is looking for a coat.”

Finally, Squire said, to those who are sleeping outside in camps around the city, “We want you to come in, especially when it gets cold, even if it’s just to get some hot coffee and warm up.”

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