Deep freeze especially hard for area homeless

Becky Campbell • Jan 6, 2014 at 8:09 PM

When Salvation Army employees found Fred Shumate huddled and bundled up inside his tent in Johnson City on Monday, they offered him a bed at the shelter downtown.

Shumate, who said he’s been living outside for about four years, politely declined the offer. He did take Scott Blevins, director of the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope shelter, up on his offer of a hot cup of coffee.

“I just like it out here,” he said, taking a draw on a hand-rolled cigarette. “My boy is coming to get me,” Shumate told Blevins after a second offer of the shelter bed. Blevins didn’t press Shumate on the issue.

Blevins’ visit with Shumate was the only contact he made with anyone homeless and out in the cold Monday. He and other Salvation Army employees went on a drive around town looking for anyone who might need shelter from the frigid temperature.

“It’ll be all over town that we’re out looking” for people, Blevins said. He found several areas that had evidence of a homeless camp, but Shumate was the only person he found.

Even with the prediction for cold weather Sunday night, Blevins said there were not an unusual number of people seeking shelter. That could change Monday as the temperature prediction drops to 0 degrees.

“The white flag is still out,” Blevins said. When there’s a white flag flying outside the shelter door on Ashe Street, it’s an unspoken message that everyone is welcome to come in from the cold.

The shelter has two programs. One is for transitional residents, or those seeking to obtain a permanent residence, and one is for transients, who tend to live outdoors unless conditions are so extreme it forces them to seek shelter indoors.

“What we’re trying to do is put everybody in regular beds and use the white flag for people who just come in for the night,” Blevins said.

Normally, residents at the shelter are required to leave the center by 8 a.m., but Monday was an exception.

“We’re letting everybody stay in because of the cold,” he said.

Blevins said the shelter’s transitional programs for men and women, which is a longer-term housing option for people working toward their own home, are both full.

“Our transient housing is about 60 percent full right now,” so there is room for people who need emergency protection from the elements, he said.

With both programs, the shelter can accommodate around 120 people, Blevins said.

”We’ve been working closely with the police and other shelters, calling around to see how many beds they have. We’re more than willing to take people. We definitely encourage them to come in,” Blevins said. “There are some folks out there, they just won’t come in. For whatever reason, they just don’t want to come in. We kinda know who they are, and when they come in we know it’s severe.”

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