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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Snedden

Cold Weather Shelter Wrap UP

Now that winter is behind us, we want to thank all those who helped make our cold-weather shelter a helpful resource for our unhoused neighbors. Open for 27 nights from November through March, this collaborative effort between A Home and Decatur First United Methodist Church served 105 different individuals and families needing a warm place to stay and a warm meal during the coldest nights of the winter.

The Cold Weather Committee members Shelly Fine, Ellen Gallow, Ellen Bishop, Joe Mehlhop, Marion Owen, Judy Powell, Stacy Waggoner took turns as on-site hosts at the shelter and hired five super shelter managers who worked on a rotating basis.

50 volunteers served at the shelter this year, 25 served more than once, and a couple of hero helpers supported with 10 commitments.

A night at the shelter typically starts several days before the doors are opened. When the team knows the overnight temperatures will be at or below 35 degrees, an email is circulated, asking for volunteers. The First Shift of volunteers inflated air mattresses, set up tables, put out hygiene kits and towels, as well as donated clothes.

Guests were met in front of Sycamore House, across from the Decatur Library, and were brought to the shelter. Safety checks were done by the shelter managers and guests made their way to a space to put down their belongings and settle in before dinner. Many use the restroom to change into more comfortable clothes and plug in their phone chargers.

Dinners, such as chili, salad, bread, and cookies were provided by volunteers. Guests sit family-style at folding tables and chairs. There is conversation about sports, children, the latest efforts to look for work, and, of course, how cold the weather is outside. After dinner, some step outside for a smoke, others shower, and some head to bed right away.

The overnight volunteer and the shelter manager trade off sleeping in case there is a late-night need or to check the temperature in the room. In the morning, guests wake at 6am, eat breakfast, and are on their way.

A difficulty that we encountered in January was a period of several days that were so cold (in the teens) that the heating system in the gym was unable to provide adequate heat to warm the space. We adapted by transporting all of our guests to one of several warming centers set up by the county.

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