Shelters prepare to accommodate homeless during cold weather

The most recent cold spell came just as Columbus agencies who assist the homeless were participating in a statewide winter weather exercise.

The practice session turned into the real thing Monday night, Tuesday and possibly into Tuesday night as temperatures are expected to dive below freezing.

"We had a meeting Monday with the stakeholders looking at how to address the immediate concerns and going forward what are the protocols we need in place," said Home for Good Executive Director Christy Bevis.

The city of Columbus Emergency Management Department, city Parks and Recreation Department, Salvation Army, Open Door Community House, Homeless Resource Network, Safehouse, the West Central Georgia Red Cross and others were at the table Monday when the shelters decided to expand capacity to deal with the current cold weather.

"Monday was a long night," said Neil Richardson, executive director of the Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministries. "And we are getting ready for another long one."

The Jail Ministries operates Safehouse at 2010 Hamilton Road as a resource center for people in recovery, ex-offenders and anyone needing a helping hand.

Normally a day shelter, Safehouse has converted into an overnight shelter during the current cold snap. The West Central Georgia Red Cross chapter has furnished cots and other supplies to allow Safehouse to operate around the clock.

On Monday night, 31 people were sheltered there as the low reached 28 degrees. The shelter is taking all comers, Richardson said."We're tyring to get people in out of the cold," he said. "The Columbus Police Department brought one in around 1 a.m. We had somebody knocking on the door at 3 a.m. and we let them in."

Monday night and Tuesday morning the temperatures dipped below 32 degrees just before 2 a.m. and went back over 32 degrees at 10 a.m. The low forecast for Wednesday night is 28 with the low getting back over freezing Thursday night.

It is going to be much colder tonight.

The forecast for Tuesday night and Wednesday morning called for the temperatures to fall below 32 degrees at 8 a.m. and remain below freezing for about 13 hours. The low is forecast for 21 degrees.

"We could easily have as many as 50 people here," Richardson said.

Safehouse is located in the old Rosehill United Methodist Church.

Columbus Police Capt. J.D. Hawk said officers were looking to assist those who might be out in the elements overnight.

"Our officers are aware of the shelters that are open," Hawk said. "We will direct them toward the shelters and help them when we can. Our folks are paying attention to the street."

Not everyone wants to go to a shelter, Hawk said.

"There are just some people who don't want the help," Hawk said.

Adelaide Kirk, executive director of the local Red Cross chapter, said they are working with Safehouse and others to extend capacity.

"All of us are working together right now," Kirk said.

Bevis agreed. And the agencies are trying to figure out a plan to trigger additional services in the coming weeks and months.

"We are looking at places like Fort Worth, Birmingham and Nashville that have policies in place," Bevis said. "If we can find somewhere with similar weather and a good policy, we can adopt that."