Local shelters take steps to help protect homeless during cold snap

Sierra Rains
The Daily Ardmoreite
A white flag waves in the wind outside the Salvation Army's homeless shelter. The white flag signals that the organization will be letting in individuals beyond its typical requirements

With dangerously cold temperatures and possibly even snow moving into Southern Oklahoma, the local homeless population is facing an increased risk. 

Grace Center Executive Director Laura Akers said the community has shown great concern for those spending their nights on the streets, and shelters in the area are working to ensure individuals have a warm place to go at night. 

Overnight lows are expected to be in the single digits this weekend, with the wind chill ranging from zero to negative 10. A snowstorm may also move through the area Sunday into Monday. 

“Anyone who spends time in cold temperatures and snow puts themselves at risk for frostbite or hypothermia, and even death,” Akers said. “The Grace Center, as well as many organizations and community members, would not want to see frostbite, hypothermia or death happen to the homeless community.”

The Grace Day Center functions as a place for individuals experiencing homelessness to drop by and access restrooms, supplies and a heated facility during the daytime. Normally, the Day Center is only open during the weekdays and closes around 3 p.m. 

“It is very concerning to see the forecast for the coming five to six days and know that it happens over the weekend, which is when some of our services are not available to individuals that are experiencing homelessness, as well as those who live in dire poverty,” Akers said. 

To help accommodate those in need, the Grace Center is extending it’s hours to 6 p.m. from Thursday to Sunday, as well as Monday and Tuesday next week. With these new hours, the Grace Center is aiming to close the gap in time where individuals may not have shelter. 

“The reason that we chose 6 p.m. is that currently we know that the library closes at 5 p.m. and the Salvation Army doesn’t begin letting residents in until 6 p.m.,” Akers said. 

The Salvation Army is currently the only overnight shelter available for those experiencing homelessness in the Ardmore area. 

Salvation Army Social Services Case Worker Debra Douthit said the Salvation Army will fly a white flag outside of the shelter anytime the temperature drops below 35 degrees, and even on some cold nights in the summer. 

The white flag signals that the organization will be letting individuals in beyond their typical requirements. “If it’s going to be cold outside they’re welcome to come in, spend the night, have a nice meal, take a shower, get cleaned up, whatever they need,” Douthit said. 

Normally the shelter will close at 8 a.m., but the Salvation Army has also extended it’s hours to help keep individuals experiencing homelessness warm. Douthit said they are allowing individuals to stay until at least 1 p.m., or until it becomes somewhat warmer in the day. The shelter opens back up at 6 p.m. 

The shelter’s capacity is around 16 people, with a few extra beds for those who need shelter in extreme weather conditions. However, Douthit said they are trying not to overcrowd due to COVID-19. 

The Salvation Army began flying its white flag on Tuesday and will likely have it up for the rest of the week. Douthit said they had five individuals seeking shelter Wednesday night and all but one was still there the next morning. 

The Grace Center will need volunteers in order to extend it’s hours and is asking for help up until Tuesday, Feb. 16. Volunteers will act as support for Grace Center staff, sorting donations and preparing coffee and snacks. 

Some volunteers are also needed in the Grace Day Center office to respond to clients’ requests for items like towels and toiletries for showers. Akers said the organization is thankful to continuously receive a wide response from community members willing to help out the Grace Center and those experiencing homelessness.  

The Grace Center sent out a call for donations of warm weather supplies earlier this week and shortly after, received several calls and messages from individuals looking to help. 

“The Grace Center staff has been overwhelmed and has felt the love from the greater community about taking care of our Day Center clients and Ardmore’s homeless during this cold spell,” Akers said. “It’s been wonderful.”

Akers said they received many gloves, hats, scarves, hand and feet warmers and blankets, and could still use some more. Thermal underwear and thick wool socks are some of the most needed items. The items will then be passed along to individuals who come through the Grace Day Center during the week. 

“We’re very fortunate that we get to experience that encounter and see someone’s eyes light up as they receive something that they desperately need or hear the comments like ‘This is going to keep me warm tonight',” Akers said. “It’s heartwarming to be able to do that and we really appreciate that because that’s a direct result from the kindness of our community that gives items to us.” 

To donate or volunteer, contact the Grace Center at (580) 223-2027. A list of times the organization will need volunteers is also available on the Grace Center’s Facebook page, along with a link where individuals can sign up. 

Donations can be dropped off at the Grace Day Center, located at 11 A Street Northwest, between 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.