Pandemic limits homeless bed space during freeze

Vicky O. Misa
The Shawnee News-Star
The Salvation Army of Shawnee.

As temperatures are predicted to stay below freezing for the next several days, residents are focused on hunkering down at home under warm blankets with hot beverages in-hand.

But not everyone has a home.

For the hundred or so homeless in Shawnee, the term freezing is not just a descriptor to identify cold weather, it's a literal possibility.

As it has for years, the Salvation Army in Shawnee is opening its doors as a warm place for people seeking shelter from the dangerously cold weather — though space is more limited than usual.

Salvation Army-Shawnee Capt. Patrick Connelly said with COVID-19 restrictions, the nonprofit can house 26 people, but cold weather will necessitate the use of mats on the floor, which will bring its total accommodation to 40.

“When the temperature reaches 32 degrees or lower, The Salvation Army will be open during the day as a warming center for our neighbors in need,” he said. “Our inclement weather policy is in effect, so we will remain open 24 hours until the threat from the cold temperatures has subsided.”

He said the Salvation Army is working hard to accommodate those in the most need, like the homeless or those who may not have adequate heating.

At risk are infants and older people, Connelly said, although people of any age or fitness level sometimes develop hypothermia symptoms.

The primary concern of The Salvation Army, he said, is the health and safety of its neighbors.

“This week, staff members anticipate more requests as the temperatures drop,” he said. “There's no reason people can't seek refuge from the cold, because our doors are open."

Connelly said the Shawnee site provided 536 nights of shelter last month alone.

“The Salvation Army is committed to serving our neighbors in need 365 days a year,” he said. “During the fall and winter months we will provide comfort in the form of a place to stay warm, as well as provide a cup of water or hot coffee to those who need shelter from the cold.”

He said the shelter will assess the weather situation on daily basis.

According to the National Weather Service, frigid and dangerously cold temperatures will be around all week, with overnight lows dipping into the teens in Shawnee and a low of 10 degrees in the forecast by Friday morning.

Monetary donations to help provide heating to those in need are welcome, Connelly said, and can be made by mailing a check to 200 E. 9th Street, Shawnee, OK 74801, by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY, or visiting online at www.salvationarmyusa.org.

The Salvation Army-Shawnee is at 200 E. 9th Street.

For more information, contact The Salvation Army (405) 275-2243.

For story ideas, questions or concerns, reporter Vicky O. Misa can be reached at vicky.misa@news-star.com.