Cold Weather Increases Shelter Demand

By: Brian Johnson Email
By: Brian Johnson Email

The kitchen is busy. It's meal time at the Volunteers of America, and there are lots of hungry people.

About 40 percent of their clients have jobs. VOA employees say the working poor is the fastest growing population they see.

"Wicked storms, heavy rains, heavy snow and low temperatures are the big things that typically drive our increases," said Patrick Patterson the Excutive Vice President of Volunteers of America.

Terry Herman works at a restaurant part-time, he says the Volunteers of America helps relieve the stress of being homeless.

"I think this place is going to help me get everything i need to get back on my feet," said Terry Herman who is currently homeless.

On a busy day the VOA said it gives out 500 meals--100 for breakfast, 150 for lunch, 250 for dinner. Right now is the busy season.

"Faces change all the time," said Patterson. "On average we'll have 11 people new to homelessness in our facility everyday."

While the recent power outages slightly increased the number of people it serves, the cold weather is the driving force behind the increase.

They have 50 beds in the dorms, but for several months, they have been over capacity. The shelter has had to put extra beds down and put some families in hotels.

During the past week two homeless men died.

"It feels like a failure to us--anytime a homeless person dies. That's hard for staff and that's hard for the people [we serve]," said Patterson.

The VOA partnered with Sparrow and is building a preventative care clinic that connects to the Shelter. SO far the exterior walls have gone up. The clinic is set to open in February 2014.

"That could be the difference between someone who dies in the street and someone who doesn't," said Patterson. "What we hope to do is to take care of those disabling conditions and emergency circumstances when someone comes for a meal or comes to see a case manager."

The goal is better serve this in need, and reduce the number of emergency room visits by 50 percent.

Herman is grateful for all the help the shelter offers.

"The services that they provide give people a lot of hope," said Herman.

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