Cold Weather Crisis Shelters in Greensboro

IMG_20140124_234325_790January has been an unusually cold month. Temperatures in the single digits and below are dangerously cold for the many homeless people who live outside in Greensboro. But staying in an emergency shelter — Greensboro Urban Ministry’s Weaver House or WE (winter emergency) shelters in churches — is not an option for most of them. Some can’t stay in the shelters because of eligibility rules: time limits on stays; ID required; no sex offenders; etc. Some are banned because of previous behavior issues — often related to addiction or mental health disorders. Some can’t stay at Weaver House or in WE shelters because they have pets or have a lot of belongings that they can’t take with them. Some won’t stay in shelters because they’ve had a previous negative experience with staff; they have traumatic brain injury, addiction or mental health issues which make it difficult for them to comply with rules; they can’t stay together with a spouse or partner; they don’t feel cared for in an institutional setting; etc. And so they sleep outside in tents, under bridges, in abandoned buildings, on park benches, on sidewalks, in parking decks — wherever they can. And when temperatures are dangerously cold, they are at risk.

IMG_20140124_233830_258Recognizing this risk, Gift Community and Awaken City churches in downtown Greensboro have opened up their meeting spaces during dangerously cold weather to serve as cold weather crisis shelters for homeless people who live outside. The crisis shelters are operated differently from traditional shelters. We call them “no barrier” shelters. They are open from 7pm until 7am on any night that the temperature or wind chill is in single digits and guests may come in at any time during those hours. Any homeless person who lives outside in Greensboro is welcome to come in and stay with us. There is no registration process and there are no eligibility rules.

IMG_20140124_192741_313Homeless people — we just call them friends — come in and get a sleeping bag and cot. The crisis shelters serve men and women in one space so that couples and groups of friends can stay together, with separate space for women who prefer it. A hot meal is served every evening and breakfast is served every morning. Snacks, water, coffee and soft drinks are available at any time. People are free to go out and smoke at any time throughout the night. Donors drop by with hats, scarves, gloves, socks and more.

One church has TVs. The other has video games, nightly card games and a volunteer who shows movies on her laptop. The atmosphere at both crisis shelters is low-key, laid-back and most of all, caring and supportive. No one is paid to be there. The volunteers are there because they want to be and look forward to getting there every night. The homeless people who sleep in the crisis shelters have stepped in and become volunteers themselves — some taking leadership roles — helping with welcoming new people into the shelter, caring for those not feeling well, setting up and taking down cots, cleaning alongside volunteers, and more. With everyone eating, talking and serving alongside each other, it’s hard to tell who’s homeless and who’s not, which we think is just great. People are people. A lot of times it  feels like family to me, which is exactly how it should be.

StreetWatch homeless outreach team is assisting in coordinating and stocking the shelters, raising funds, and communicating with the public and with partners assisting with the shelters. (We’re also doing pre-assessments to help find out what supports and services our friends may need to help end their homelessness.) 16 Cents Ministry is providing transportation. Missio dei:gso church is providing volunteers and funding. Greensboro Police Department is providing assistance and coordinating overnight transportation. Many others are volunteering and providing financial contributions and donating needed items. You can help.