It’s been a busy January for Pensacola-area shelters, helping the homeless and heatless cope with two winter blasts.
Frigid temperatures, with lows and wind chills in the 20s and teens, hit the area twice this month as shelters saw more people coming in to avail themselves of their services, as they do whenever there’s bad weather.
“Whether that’s a hurricane, a bad storm, or of course, the severe cold,” said Waterfront spokesman Paul Stadden. “Waterfront Rescue Mission is always trying to respond to the need as best as it possibly can.”
Part of that response is the shelter’s Day Resources program, which is up and running in both good weather and bad.
“Which offers to ability to get connected to long-term services as needed [such as] VA benefits,” Stadden said. “Showers, laundry toiletries, clothing, that sort of thing. We keep that extended longer so people can stay inside, out of the cold.”
And when the nighttime temperature drops to 35 degrees or below, Waterfront’s “Extreme Cold Night” plan kicks in, where men can stay overnight for free.
“We want to make sure if there is dangerous or threatening weather, that we can accommodate the needy as best as we possibly can,” said Stadden. “Since we are a men-only overnight facility, we work with our partner agencies to be able to connect women and children with an overnight service should they need it. For example, [the group] Women of Clear Vision.”
While not a shelter itself, the Alfred Washburn Center off Highway 29 provides support to shelters in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties, along with homeless individuals.
“We saw a lot of people coming through needing supplies such as blankets, knit caps, gloves, jackets – different things to help stay warm,” said Michael Kimbrell, the Center’s new director.
During this week’s cold snap, especially the extremely cold mornings, the number of people coming to Alfred Washburn has declined slightly. Kimbrell has a theory.
“We normally have a line of about 50 individuals waiting for us to open in the mornings; in these past cold snaps it probably was cut in half,” Kimbrell said. “We suspect it was from people wanting to stay inside their tents and bundled up in sleeping bags, than get out and brave the cold.”
Back at Waterfront Rescue Mission, Paul Stadden says everybody was gearing up for one final night of Old Man Winter, before temperatures moderate back to more seasonal readings for the weekend. But in the grand scheme of things, he says their year-round mission is to help their clients weather their own personal storms.
“A couple of days of cold, we want to make sure the people know we’re here as a refuge,” said Stadden. “But the main thing somebody may be facing may not just be a cold day, but may be a self-destructive lifestyle. Or not being able to manage their money and ending up on the streets. It’s ‘What can we do to help you tomorrow; next week, next year.’”