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Organizers need space and volunteers for Springfield’s cold weather shelters this winter

Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 9:45 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Planning is already underway for Springfield’s cold weather shelters. Organizers are concerned about having enough room for sleeping and social distancing, working to ensure they can provide that shelter safely during the pandemic. They are facing challenges along the way.

Capacities at those cold weather shelters have been cut in half because of the coronavirus. For example, East Sunshine Church of Christ offered beds for up to 110 men last winter. This year, that will be capped at 50.

Christie Love said that is a devastating blow, one that is terrifying some of the most vulnerable people in Springfield. She talked about a conversation she had this week with a man who is living on the street.

“He said, ‘I am so scared. Please tell me you’re going to have something for us.’ I said, ‘I’m trying to do everything that I can.’ He just said, ‘I just don’t want to freeze to death,'" Love recounted.

Love said conversations about that harsh reality are common among Springfield’s homeless population, which she said is growing. Through her outreach, she estimates more than 700 people are living on the city’s streets.

“I want to think I’m not going to lose any of those friends this winter, but that’s not a guarantee and that’s a really real possibility," Love said.

Springfield’s cold weather shelters open November through March, when the temperature hits or drops below 32 degrees.

“We need indoor space where we can get people out of the elements and off the streets," Love said.

With capacities cut in half, Love and other advocates are calling on churches to open up their doors. Last week, the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness held a virtual meeting with faith leaders to discuss other church’s experiences and what it’s like hosting a shelter.

“If we can get churches to open up their buildings, that’s resources we don’t have to pay in rent or overhead that can go back into outreach or hopefully affordable housing programs to help break down barriers long-term,” Love said.

Amanda Stadler, with Community Partnership of the Ozarks, said having enough space and enough people to staff shelters are always the two biggest needs. She said this year, volunteers are critical.

“The population that normally volunteers at these crisis cold weather shelters typically falls within that vulnerable category," Stadler said.

Stadler said CPO will work with health officials to enforce safety guidelines at those shelters with masking, distancing and cleaning. When asked if there was any consideration about not being able to offer shelters at all, Stadler said the planning committee has not yet discussed that option.

“There’s a lot of unknowns, I think, right now, with every part of our life and especially with this," Stadler said.

Stadler said some shelters have provided snacks in the past, which will also look differently this year. She said, no matter what changes, the cold weather shelters are life-saving.

“I really can’t emphasize enough how important that is, and by individuals or groups volunteering to support this, they can really have a tangible impact on some of the most vulnerable within our community," Stadler said.

Love said desperate people will do desperate things to save their own life, like break into a vacant building for shelter if it’s necessary.

“There’s a whole plethora of risk factors that will impact our entire community if we have a large number of people on the streets this winter who are really desperate to just survive the night,” Love said.

She said, several people lost fingertips and toes to frostbite last year, when shelters were available. Love is certain, people will suffer in Springfield this winter without somewhere warm to spend the night.

“If we’re going to be okay with that many people on the streets potentially freezing to death in our city, that says a lot about Springfield that I don’t think defines the heart of Springfield," she said.

According to Love, there are a handful of churches considering opening their doors, but only East Sunshine Church of Christ and Grace United Methodist Church have committed. That provides room for only 50 men, and 15 women. She said even those shelters are struggling to find enough volunteers.

For anyone interested in learning more about how to help, contact Amanda Stadler at 417-888-2020 or email astadler@cpozarks.org.

Copyright 2020 KY3. All rights reserved.

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