A temporary warming shelter that opened Saturday night at First United Methodist Church extended its hours as frigid temperatures continued Monday night.
The shelter, which was to remain open until 9 a.m. today, hosted "around 40 of our homeless neighbors" since opening its doors, according to a Facebook post written by Sally Carder, volunteer outreach coordinator for St. Luke's Episcopal Church.
"The Red Cross brought more cots and blankets this afternoon," Carder posted on Sunday. "Our Community has been wonderful ... donations of food and blankets, snacks, drinks, juice, etc. have arrived all day. These donations should carry us through this episode of frigid cold temperatures.
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"Special thanks to First Methodist Church for opening their Christian Life Center, to the Street Missions Team of Lakeview Assembly of God Church, to Cooperative Christian Ministries and Clinic, and to the Outreach Team at St. Luke's Episcopal Church. Also, thanks to the City of Hot Springs and the Hot Springs Police Department. Homelessness is a challenge for ALL of us and TOGETHER we must work to find a solution."
Kim Carter, CCMC executive director, told the newspaper Monday that when temperatures are forecast to be below 25 degrees for an extended period, organizations like St. Luke's, FUMC, CCMC, and others come together to open a warming shelter.
"Hot Springs doesn't have a low barrier homeless shelter of any sort so when we have extreme weather conditions ... there's a group of organizations, civic (groups) that come together to try to provide safety ... for our homeless individuals during cold weather, extreme weather -- any sort like that," she said.
"So, our mission this week is, we've kind of set this ... when it gets down to around 20 degrees we want to make sure that everyone's inside and has protection from the cold, that they're fed and they have their basic needs met," she said.
Carter said temperature is the driving force that determines when and how long a pop-up shelter will last.
"Today for example we stayed open until noon, technically, because we wanted the temperature to have enough time to climb. A lot of times they close them up at 6 (a.m.) ... but this morning it was just too cold," she said.
Opening the warming shelter was an all-volunteer effort funded completely by donations and by community partners like First United Methodist Church that allowed the community to "come in and use this gigantic space," Carter said.
"The Red Cross provided every one of these cots in here and most of the blankets. And then individuals and other organizations helped provide the food so that we can feed everybody during this time. It's quite an effort to undertake," she said.
Both Carter and Carder said the city has provided resources to ensure warming shelters are safe and the city's homeless community is taken care of during extreme weather.
"I would say, City Manager Bill Burrough has been a leader in every way as he has worked to provide what services are appropriate from the city -- the chief of police, Bill Burrough, Lance Spicer -- they always make sure that we have adequate police patrols coming through," Carter said.
"When we're operating, they know we're operating and there's a zero-tolerance for any disorderly conduct in here. We'll pull out a phone and call 9-1-1. We go back to that safety issue -- we want them to be safe and we want all our volunteers to be safe."
"You have to understand that our homeless issue is not just a humanitarian issue, it's also an economic issue here in this city," Carder said. "The only way that we're going to get people off the street is to establish a relationship with them, to work with them much like CCMC works with them. Each person's an individual. So this gives us an opportunity to create more relationships with each person that's here.
"And, in fact, Kim can tell you that CCMC works with most of these people that are here. We know these folks. So we're asking everyone to come together and help with this issue. And this is part of what we do. It's the right thing to do. So, as Kim has said, we're trying to keep people safe."
With a continued increase in cases of COVID-19, the warming shelter follows certain safety protocols to keep guests socially distanced and keep the space sanitized. Carter said guests and volunteers are all required to wear masks, as well.
"Right now we're sitting here without masks, but all the volunteers have had on N95s and all of our participants have had to wear masks," she said. "And it has been a challenge keeping masks on our guests, but we really work to address COVID safety protocols -- spacing between cots, sanitizing -- we've had to be the bad guy and constantly trying to get people to keep masks on."
She said many of the homeless population have chronic health conditions because of lack of health care, hard lifestyles, "those types of things" so they are a vulnerable population for COVID.
"We do everything we can to protect them while they're in here," she said.
Carder said with below-freezing temperatures forecast for later this week, another shelter is planned to open at Lakeview Assembly of God Church.
"I do know that the temperatures are predicted to be very low this Thursday and Friday night and Lakeview Assembly of God Church will be open at that time and we'll be having a shelter there," she said.
"And our homeless neighbors know and we make sure they know before they leave here (today) that they can catch the last bus free of charge at 5 o'clock at the Transportation Depot and they can go out to Lakeview. And then when they're released Friday, they can catch the bus back downtown."