Temperatures are projected to dip into the 20s multiple times during the next seven days, and for now at least some who need a place to stay warm won’t have one in Martinsville.
For the first time in at least five years, the Winter Warming Center at the Salvation Army isn’t able to open this season, which means there is no ready place for the area’s homeless to gather when the temperature reaches 32 degrees or below.
The center had been open to both men and women, although it has served mostly men in the past. Some counted on its warmth.
“It would be anywhere from two to three to as many as eight or nine” staying at the center each night, said Michael Harrison, pastor at the Community Fellowship, which helped with the center. “We probably served three or four women through the season, but maybe 15% to 20% of the time, we were serving women.”
The decision to close, Harrison said, didn’t come lightly, but a series of issues emerged that organizers haven’t conquered. But they said they haven’t given up, either.
First, last year’s director of the project recently faced serious medical issues, including a surgery, which prohibited him from returning to the position. Organizers have searched for someone to fill that vacancy, but the right candidate hasn’t emerged.
“They would be good people-people as well as organizers. Just some good leadership skills,” Harrison said. “That person is going to have a flexible schedule and be good with people. We can work with anybody, so to speak, but that would be the best thing.”
Another problem is that the Salvation Army in Martinsville no longer is able to provide space.
“When we began, the Salvation Army had the after-school program for teenagers, but they didn’t have anything else in the basement, so it worked really well,” Harrison said. “Now that that building is very full and very busy, it just has not been conducive. We’ve needed more.”
Organizers are continuing to seek a suitable building within walking distance of uptown Martinsville. Cots, blankets and pillows are easy to come by, but the center requires adequate square footage, including a storage room for donated items and bathrooms and showers.
Such a place isn’t easy to secure on a night-by-night basis.
There also is the huge hurdle of having a adequate number of volunteers to staff the center. There were many nights last winter when organizers used hotels at a high cost because there weren’t enough volunteers.
“Per day, essentially, you have to have on site four or five volunteers. That includes somebody providing a meal – that can be one person, that could be 50 people, depending on if it’s an organization. Then you have people who are doing intake, who meet the residents each night to make sure they’re coming in,” Harrison said. “Then you have two people that stay overnight – that’s the most difficult volunteer to get, is those that will stay overnight with our guests.”
Unfortunately, there are no other warming centers around the area. The Southside Survivor Response Center does have a shelter for women and children in need, and there are a few transitional-style houses. But space is an issue.
The closest homeless shelter is the House of Hope in Danville, located at 206 S Ridge St. In Roanoke, there’s Trust House, located at 404 Elm Ave SW, and Rescue Mission, located at 402 4th St SE. An overnight shelter in Salem is Family Promise of Roanoke Valley, located at 37 E Clay St.
And getting to an overnight shelter several miles away presents another issue for homeless individuals.
“Most everybody that shows up does not have transportation,” Harrison said.
Area organizations such as the Salvation Army, Grace Network and a handful of churches do provide hotels for individuals from time to time, Harrison noted.
And individuals can also help others who are down on their luck.
“You meet a homeless person? Provide a meal. Provide a coat. Most of us take for granted dry, clean socks. Somebody that’s out in the elements, they get a clean pair of socks, well, how are they going to launder them? Give them a pair of socks,” Harrison said. “Find a way to make a difference, just one on one. Specifically for folks who are homeless, if you see somebody, ask, ‘Can I help you?’ Point them to some of the organizations.”
Organizers for Martinsville’s warming center are hopeful that the entire season won’t go by without a place for the area’s homeless to stay overnight.
“There have been some good conversations with people on Facebook, some phone conversations of folks who want to be involved, who want to help,” Harrison said. “I would love to see us be able to open as winter begins or soon after, but for that to happen, we have to have a project leader and a space ready to go. We need to be open. Typically, we open somewhere around the 15th of November and run until the middle of March or so.”