Groups involved in providing warming shelters for those living on the street in Temple or living in homes with no heat when the temperatures drop into the 30s met at the United Way of Central Texas to get an update on the effort.
It was decided early on that 2-1-1 Helpline would be the conduit of information on when the warming stations would be open and their capacity. If a location is full, ideally it sends that information to 2-1-1 so those seeking shelter from the cold can be diverted to another location.
“The helpline is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; it just makes sense to use the service to get the information out to the people who need it,” Pat Patterson said.
However, “the Helpline only works if the information it is given is accurate and up to date,” Aly McMillan, vice president of community impact at the United Way, said.
The Helpline database is updated every year, but is dependent on social service agencies providing the information to 2-1-1
“We set up the protocol and, using the Care Network email list, sent the warming station information out to local churches and social service agencies that are most likely to have contact with people who need a warm place to stay during frigid weather,” Patterson said.
In the last several weeks, since the program was put in place, the homeless still go first to the Salvation Army.
“We’re here today to tweak the effort and look for ways to make the system better,” he said.
Impact Church sheltered 18 people on Jan. 11, which was the most people served on one night since opening a shelter, Nate Watts said.
That information was not shared with the helpline, McMillan said.
Impact Church has a capacity for 40 people for overnight stays.
Feed My Sheep participated as a warming shelter the first week the plan was put in place and typically had five women and 15 men participating.
The group stopped offering the service when the building began experiencing plumbing issues, Staci Masson, Feed My Sheep executive director, said.
One of the problems is what the visitors put down the toilet, Masson said. The chief issue is keeping the kitchen up and running while dealing with the plumbing.
Masson said the Feed My Sheep volunteers work all day and aren’t able to help out when the warming shelter is in operation at night. She reached out to several churches, but had no luck yet in recruiting volunteers for the overnight shift.
Lt. Chantel Millin, officer at the Salvation Army of Bell County and McLane Center of Hope in Temple, said the Salvation Army has had 11 people spend the night during cold weather during December. The maximum number for the warming shelter is 30.
“The most important thing is getting up to date information to the 2-1-1 Helpline,” Patterson said.
Patterson said the Hilton Garden Inn is donating blankets to shelters.
“They periodically change out their blankets for new, so we have all the blankets you probably need, just let us know what you require and we’ll get them to you,” he said.
Patterson said he’s going to reach out to a couple of cleaners who have the capability of laundering the blankets quickly.
Feed My Sheep posts signs of the openings of the shelters on cold nights.
“We have a signup sheet at lunch,” said Mike Lawson of Feed My Sheep.
Signing the sheet is a form of registration and a space is reserved for that individual until the 5 p.m. check-in time.
Salvation Army opens its warming station when the overnight temperature is forecasted to be 32 degrees and lower, or wet and 34 degrees and lower.
Watts said he will follow the Salvation Army guidelines because he doesn’t want to burn out his volunteers.
St. Vincent de Paul serves as a day shelter for the homeless and has had 38 people come into the thrift store to get warm.
Caitlin West, director of the thrift store, said the people who come in are typically a little shook up when they first arrive.
“It takes some time before they are comfortable with you and you are comfortable with them,” West said.
The visitors are usually taken first to the devotional room where they can calm down and get situated. They are invited to help out in the store and many times return to the thrift store to volunteer.
“We’ve had some as young as 17 come in and up to age 80,” she said.