Blankets, clothes in short supply


Published: Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 12:13 a.m.

As the recent dip in temperatures persists, the need for shelter and warm clothing escalates for those who are struggling, especially for the area's homeless population.

Agencies trying to answer the call for help are finding it challenging to keep up.

"I have two blankets left, so we need more," said Jon DeCarmine, executive director of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless & Hungry. "As fast as they come into the office they go back out to those who can't or won't come into shelter."

DeCarmine said local homeless advocates are also helping distribute blankets, coats, gloves, hats and socks from their cars.

"The first real cold snap always shakes people and there are some people out there who have no escape from the elements 24/7," he said. "So we hope it helps spread awareness and generates support from the community."

Arupa Freeman, coordinator of the Home Van, the St. Vincent de Paul Society's outreach to the homeless community, hands out blankets when available.

She said the cold weather is making the situation of homelessness worse as people try to cope.

"You try living outdoors," she said. "I've not seen it this bad. It's like something out of the 1930s or Nazi Germany. These are human beings."

Freeman, who hits the street on Tuesdays and Thursdays of each week, said when she went out on New Year's Eve, she found people who had not eaten for two days, let alone had shelter.

As long as there is a freeze warning in the area, those in need of shelter will not be turned away from St. Francis House. Kent Vann, executive director of St. Francis House, said the facility on Tuesday night housed 74 people in addition to the 35 people they serve on a regular basis.

However, the extra bodies mean additional food is needed along with funds to cover utility bills. The increase also taxes supplies like toilet paper and warm clothing.

"When we have to, during extreme weather, we can get an additional 150 people in and we encourage people to be here to get out of the weather," Vann said. "We will not turn anyone away without an alternative place to go."

In certain instances. like when people require special medical needs, Vann will refer someone to the Alachua County Housing Authority for a hotel voucher.

In recent days, the agency has provided 17 vouchers, which involve four families.

Gail Monahan, executive director of the Alachua County Housing Authority, said the voucher typically covers a stay through the cold snap.

"This is the longest cold snap we've ever had," Monahan said.

She said a number of vouchers were provided before Christmas and have since been extended.

"I know we will have to extend again next week as we look at the forecast," Monahan said.

Salvation Army Maj. Don Wildish said that, as people come in for daily meals, the staff and volunteers are instructed to invite people to stay in the shelter as the temperature drops.

The facility has 30 permanent beds, which are usually at capacity serving homeless men. However, Wildish said when needed, the dining room can be converted to shelter space with a network of cots.

Currently the facility does not have dedicated shelter space for women and children, something Wildish hopes to address this year.

During extreme weather, the worship center is made available for women and children, but Wildish said, "we try to avoid that because it's not set up for sheltering."

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