Rowan Helping Ministries stays open all day for homeless

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 13, 2014

As long as the lights are on at Rowan Helping Ministries, shelter officials said the homeless will have a safe, warm place to stay and get out of the snow.
Unlike many area businesses that never opened or closed early Thursday as a result of the heavy snowfall, the shelter extended its hours to be open all day — welcoming more than 60 men, women and children.
“We’ll keep the shelter open today because it is warm inside. Normally, the shelter would close at 8 in the morning and 6 in the evening, but we are operating outside of our normal hours because of the situation,” said David Holston, director of shelter services.
Holston said shelter staff anticipated the severity of the storm and prepared accordingly.
The shelter happened to have a vacancy in a transitional house used for veterans and their families, and Holston spent Wednesday night there to beat his daily 20-minute commute and be within walking distance of the shelter in the morning.
While the high volume of shelter guests staying in all day doesn’t put a strain on the shelter staff, Holston said, the unavailability of shelter volunteers and subsequent reconfiguration of meal preparation does.
The fact that regular shelter volunteers were snowed in Thursday morning and could not make the drive to the shelter led shelter staff to enlist the help of shelter guests enrolled in the “Journey Forward” program to prepare food.
The back-to-work program gives shelter guests a chance to perform work around the shelter, from assisting in soup kitchen preparation to receiving donations on the dock to stocking food pantries.
With the shortage of regular volunteers Thursday, three Journey Forward women found themselves at the soup kitchen’s helm and in charge of serving their fellow guests.
“I was shocked when I found out I was going to be helping in the kitchen,” said Barbara Williams, a shelter guest and Journey Forward participant.
Williams said the increased responsibility is a good opportunity for her.
“It is not hard unless you make it hard,” Williams said. “We’re cooking and grilling for the soup kitchen public. We’re planning on working (Thursday night) and (this morning).”
Holston said the Journey Forward program is geared toward helping men and women who want to work and who are able to work but who are facing various barriers to employment.
Today, Holston said the shelter guests most likely will drain out throughout the day to beat down their cabin fever.
“What will happen is, by tomorrow when it starts to clear up, you’ll see shelter guests start to go out,” Holston said. “Just like everybody else will try to get out of their house tomorrow, (the homeless) will try to get out as well.”
Dozens of shelter guests waited, napped and watched television in the shelter’s cafeteria Thursday while their meals were being prepared.
The shelter provided a safe haven for the homeless during the winter storm, and Holston said shelter officials are more than happy to do it.
“If you enjoy camping, you have to ask yourself if you would want to be sleeping in a tent and camping in weather like this. Some people would, but most wouldn’t,” Holston said. “Anything you have is wet and whatever you’re sleeping under is wet, which makes it colder and less comfortable. It increases the risk for health-related problems like hypothermia and exposure.”
The average age of the shelter’s guests is 50 years old, but Holston said shelter staff is seeing an increasing number of 18- to 24-year-olds coming through.
“(The population) is almost racially equal, and there is a 3-1 male to female ratio,” Holston said.
Rowan Helping Ministries Executive Director Kyna Grubb said the shelter is providing for the basic needs that “clearly are needed right now.”
Staying open all day long usually happens in cases of extreme weather, Grubb said, but the new facility being built across North Long Street will be open all day, every day.
The only shelter service not available Thursday was crisis assistance.
“We have folks who may have shut-off notices, and since we’re not offering crisis assistance, we’re encouraging people to call their utility providers and request extensions,” Grubb said. “As soon as we’re open, we’ll start working on helping people keep their power on. The cost to stay warm has gone up significantly.”