Homeless seek warmth in city shelters

PARKERSBURG – As temperatures have dropped over the last few days, some people throughout the community are vulnerable to the cold.

The area’s homeless are especially susceptible to the cold temperatures.

Temperatures for today and Friday are expected to be in the low to mid 20s, the National Weather Service said.

The Salvation Army shelter on Fifth Street in Parkersburg opened during the day because of the cold, said Lt. Mechelle Henry, a commander of the Parkersburg Unit. Generally, the shelter is closed during the day and opens at 4 p.m., she said.

“It’s because of the cold,” Henry said.

People came to the shelter early Wednesday to get indoors, she said.

“I saw people walking to the shelter just trying to get out of the cold,” Henry said.

The House To Home Day Shelter on Eighth Street in Parkersburg saw several people coming in the past couple of days to get warm, said Justin Mays, supervisor.

The shelter had 34 people throughout the day Wednesday.

”Most are here because it is cold and they don’t want to be out in it,” Mays said.

Because it is a day shelter, House To Home has been referring people to the Salvation Army and the Latrobe Street Mission for options on staying warm in the evening.

The Latrobe Street Mission has seen a steady number of people over the past week, said Brenda Ridgeway, associate director for Not For Sale Ministries, which runs the day-to-day operations of the shelter.

The mission has had around 82 beds full over the past few nights and has had to refer people to the Salvation Army and elsewhere.

”We have been averaging 75-80 people over the last week,” Ridgeway said.

Many people are looking for a place where they can get warmed up, she said.

”We have been keeping the hot coffee going all the time,” Ridgeway said. ”That has been good to have to get people warmed up.”

Those waiting Wednesday afternoon to enter the Salvation Army shelter talked about having to go to locations throughout the area to keep warm. They talked about the differing hours at the locations where they would end up back out on the street for an hour or so.

Wednesday was the first time Lorrie Florence of Parkersburg has sought shelter at the Salvation Army. She had been staying with her ex-husband, but she ended up having to leave, she said.

”This has been one of my first days out,” she said. ”I am just really cold.”

Florence said she had nowhere to go between 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. so she was outside in the bitter cold weather.

”It has been dramatic for me,” she said. ”I am a little older and I don’t get out like I used to.”

Having somewhere warm to stay and having a warm meal means a lot to someone without it.

”Sometimes the smallest things can make people happy,” Florence said.

Bethany Wright of Ohio said the wind has been so cold she has gotten wind burns on her skin.

”It is hard to be out in the cold,” she said. ”It hurts the throat and nose. It feels at time like there is ice forming on my face.”

Wright said she has been bouncing in and out of area businesses throughout the day to stay warm.

A man who only wanted to be identified as “Mark” said he has been sleeping under a highway overpass. He was recently sick with the flu and had to go to the hospital where he found out about possible heart problems resulting from smoking most of his life, he said.

He was seeking shelter at the Salvation Army. If he couldn’t get in, he wasn’t sure what he might do.

”I could throw a stone through a window or something and maybe go to jail to get in out of the cold,” Mark said. ”That is about the only choice I have if I can’t get in here tonight. You do what you have to do.”

The Salvation Army has been offering free coats on a special rack in its thrift shop for those who need a coat to stay warm. They have given out more than 200 coats since Thanksgiving.

Usage of the Salvation Army’s shelter has doubled, Henry said.

About 20 people stayed at the shelter next to the Thrift Store overnight Tuesday, she said. That’s up from 10 who stayed the night before, Henry said.

The shelter provides a meal at 4 p.m. and has snacks available, Henry said. Occupants have access to a bed, lounge and a shower; clothing vouchers are available if they need clothing, she said.

Two families used the shelter Tuesday night, Henry said.

“We do have family rooms,” Henry said.