Homeless seek shelter during freeze

PARKERSBURG – If it wasn’t for the Salvation Army shelter on Fifth Street, Delores Jude doesn’t know how she’d avoid the bitter cold that has plagued the area in recent days or the below-zero temperatures approaching.

“I just thank God for them,” said Jude, who is not originally from the area and has been staying at the shelter for a few weeks while she looks for work and housing. “Not only do they give you a good, warm bed to sleep in at night, they give you a good, warm meal.”

The shelter is usually closed during the day, but it was open all day Thursday and Friday as a warming station and will be again starting Monday, when the high is projected to be 11 degrees and the low 9 below zero, according to the National Weather Service. Both the Salvation Army shelter and the Latrobe Street Mission anticipate an increased demand as the mercury drops.

“We just encourage those people, especially ones that do not have shelter, to come in, ’cause it is cold,” said Lt. Mechelle Henry, pastor and commanding officer for the local Salvation Army corps.

The facility has 38 beds, but it can accommodate more in situations like the recent cold snap.

“We do have cots … so we can bring those into the dining room as well,” Henry said.

The Latrobe Street Mission had been averaging 60 to 70 people spending the night, but that number was up to 75 Thursday night, when temperatures dropped to 11.

“Right now, we’re pretty much taking anyone we can,” said Jason Batten, director of operations at the mission. “We encourage everyone out there without adequate shelter to come and check out what we have to offer.”

Those seeking shelter are asked to come to the mission between 4 and 6 p.m. A photo ID is strongly preferred. By law, the shelter cannot house anyone who is a registered sex offender.

The most recent homeless point in time count for Wood County, conducted this past summer, showed 81 people staying in one of the two shelters and 38 other homeless individuals in the county, according to Tim Baer, engagement specialist with Westbrook Health Services.

And some remain outside the shelters even as temperatures plunge.

“It’s all right for now. Monday and Tuesday’s going to be rough,” said Leon Geipe, who lives in a tent in a homeless encampment not far from the East Street Bridge.

Geipe and Dave Harris, who lives in the same encampment, said they do not stay at shelters because they do not like the way their activities are restricted there, with limits on when they can come and go. Harris said he worries about items being stolen when he’s crowded in with so many people.

Geipe said keeping warm during the day can be accomplished by setting a fire or going inside a place like the House to Home emergency day shelter on Eighth Street. At night, “you’re pretty much relying on anything you can to stay warm,” he said. “I’ve got an alcohol burner.”

On Friday, Geipe and Harris loaded up blankets and other items from the House to Home shelter, preparing for the days ahead.

Jessica Towner, operations manager for House to Home, said the shelter cannot collect or distribute items like fuel for alcohol or kerosene heaters.

“We do what we can do to help with extra blankets, hot hand (warmers),” she said. “Today alone I’ve given out a good 18 blankets.”

Harris was pleased to get an emergency blanket with a reflective surface to use to line his tent.

“They are great insulators,” he said.

Activity at the shelter was slow Friday compared to Thursday, Towner said. She attributed that in part to the Salvation Army shelter being open all day.

(Staff writer Gretchen Richards contributed to this story.)