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Homeless in Winter

 

Shelter

The Salvation Army will open its shelter Wednesday night as temperatures are expected to dip into the teens tonight.

Spokeswoman Kimberly George said the Community Kitchen reported having 145 people stay in its facility Tuesday night, prompting a request to the Salvation Army to open as an overflow shelter.

Doors will open at 6 p.m. Volunteers and blankets are needed. To help, call George at 423-503-1801.

There was little snow Tuesday morning across the Tennessee Valley, but the temperature plummeted below freezing, adding concern for the area's homeless population.

Monday produced a high of 60 degrees. By Tuesday morning, the temperature hovered around freezing and continued to drop. By 11 p.m., it was 25 degrees and getting colder. Wednesday and Thursday are expected to be the coldest days so far this winter, and while children were home from school Tuesday, public colleges closed and some parents stayed home, small teams from the city canvassed the area to talk to those living in the elements.

They checked to see if anyone needed more blankets, made sure they were aware there are shelters available and conducted well-being checks.

"We try to engage with people through outreach and inform them on what's available," Chattanooga Homeless Program coordinator Sam Wolfe said. "More often than not, people staying in encampments know that warming shelters are open. Some people in encampments will wait it out, and others will go in."

At the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, Tuesday was another day of providing warmth, food and shelter for those who needed it. The kitchen hosted a chili cook-off with the Chattanooga Police Department during the day before turning the facility into a nighttime shelter for those looking for a place to stay.

The winter shelter opens every night from December through March and houses more than a hundred people on the coldest nights. The city has more than 600 people facing homelessness, according to a 2018 survey of the homeless population.

"When my life turned, they helped me a bunch. They help people — a whole lot of people," Tony Taylor, a 56-year-old homeless man, said while enjoying a bowl of chili. "They've helped me when I was down They'll bring you in, help you get a place to stay and feed you."

HOW TO HELP

The Chattanooga Community Kitchen accepts donations of warm weather gear to share with the local homeless population. Coats, hand warmers, socks, underwear, gloves and hats are needed. Items can be dropped off Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 727 E. 11th St.

To contribute to the 2017 Fast Day campaign go to www.community-kitchen.org.

The Battle of the Badges chili cook-off allowed law enforcement to deal positively with a population that has a substantial amount of police interaction nationwide.

Six teams of officers and investigators cooked chili that was served for lunch Tuesday afternoon. The 100 or more people in attendance received six cups and shuttled from station to station, getting a scoop from each pot of chili.

They then voted for the best bowl as they interacted with one another and with officers.

"This homeless population, they need all the help they can get," Chattanooga assistant police chief Danna Vaughn, who helped organize the event, said. "It's certainly a portion of our community that doesn't always get the attention they need, and oftentimes it's negative. If we can show ourselves in a positive light, that's helpful."

This was the first of what organizers hope becomes a regular event.

"With these cold days, this is such a wonderful time for the people to be inside and stay warm," volunteer organizer Catherine Crawley said.

After the votes were cast, daytime workers and volunteers tore down the tables and chairs to clean out the room. Day Center Manager Stephanie McIntyre, who led the event in her "Keep Calm and Chili On" T-shirt, was on-hand overseeing operations.

McIntyre helps the shelter put on monthly events like the cook-off to lift spirits and conduct outreach.

"We try to do events like these and thought this would be one that everyone would enjoy and [that] could bond the community together," she said.

Once McIntyre and other daytime workers left, a night crew came and transformed the shelter. They put down pads and blankets, turning what was a community kitchen into a cold-weather shelter.

"We know this entire season will be ripe with extreme weather conditions that are dangerous and deadly; we want to design a space that can save lives," Chattanooga Community Kitchen Chief Operations Officers Jimmy Turner said.

The cold-weather shelter averages about 80 or 85 people per night, he said, with about 120 people typically coming during the coldest evenings.

And while local shelters are prepared, some people elect to stay outside. For those people, the shelter provides blankets, hand warmers, firewood for camps, etc.

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at mpace@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoorsTFP.

Updated to include the title of Day Center Manager Stephanie McIntyre.

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