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The cold is dangerous enough for who has to spend time outside…but it’s especially dangerous for the area’s homeless population. KSMU's Jennifer Moore reports.
The Salvation Army’s Extreme Emergency Cold Weather Shelter is open, and it’s where many homeless men and women have been gathering at night. One of them is 39-year-old woman named Pamela, who didn’t want to give us her last name. We reached her by phone Thursday at Bill’s Place on Commercial Street, which is a homeless drop-in. She said she still wasn’t sure where she’ll spend the night.
“I’m looking for cheap rent right now. And I got maybe one today. If I can find a way over there, a ride to it, I might have an apartment today. If not, I’ll be back at the Salvation Army,” she said.
Pamela’s originally from Fordland. She says she finally got the courage to leave her abusive boyfriend and flee to a battered women’s shelter in Springfield, only to be turned away because that shelter is full. Most shelters for victims of domestic violence in Missouri are operating at full capacity.
Pamela only has a sixth grade education. Still, she says she wants to get a job and get back on her feet. But right now, her focus is on surviving. She says she’s spent many cold nights sleeping in cars and on a stranger’s front porch.
“You just, basically, have to put on layers and layers of clothes, and carry all your blankets and your sleeping bags with you. And hopefully you find a place that’s safe to sleep,” she said.
She says she’s grateful to the Salvation Army for opening its emergency cold weather shelter, but she says she wishes they would open more often. Right now, the Salvation Army only opens its emergency warming center when the National Weather Service predicts a wind chill reading of 14 degrees or colder.
“Well, it would be nice if they opened the shelters up more often, without saying, ‘It’s got to be this temperature,’ or ‘It’s got to be that temperature.’ Because at 30 degrees, you can freeze if you’re outside,” she said.
Jeff Smith is the social services director at the Salvation Army in Springfield. He says the Salvation Army does what it can, given limited resources, staffing, and volunteers.
“You know, people might say they wish we were open when it’s higher than 14 (degrees). But the thing of it is, like last winter, we were open 47 days. So, we had 47 days when the wind chill was 14 degrees or below. You know, if you think about it, we were activated much of the winter,” he said.
He says the warming center is seeing over 40 people at night.
“So far this winter, we’ve been open 27 days . We’ve served 146 unduplicated individuals. That means 146 different people have come to us and said, ‘We have nowhere else to stay.’”
Smith said the Salvation Army is feeding the people who stay there three hot meals a day, and food donations are needed. Those can be dropped off at 1707 W. Chestnut Expressway—that’s at the corner of Kansas and Chestnut Expressways.
The Salvation Army also operates a homeless center for men, a homeless family center, and transitional housing for seven families, all in addition to the Extreme Emergency Cold Weather Shelter.
And when the Salvation Army is unable to serve, local churches have stepped up to the plate to shelter the homeless. Two churches currently operate shelters when the Salvation Army is either full, or when the temperature is forecast to be below a 20 degrees wind chill. Those are the East Sunshine Church of Christ, and the Pathways United Methodist Church.
For KSMU News, I'm Jennifer Moore.