Shelter from the cold provided at Wesley Memorial UMC

By AUTUMN HUGHES

Posted 1/14/18

Except for a few scattered days, there has been little respite from the bitter cold that descended in mid-November and continues to bring freezing temperatures to the region. For the area’s homeless – or those who need temporary shelter – the weather can be dangerous, but safety is available through Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church’s Cold Weather Shelter.

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Shelter from the cold provided at Wesley Memorial UMC

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Except for a few scattered days, there has been little respite from the bitter cold that descended in mid-November and continues to bring freezing temperatures to the region. For the area’s homeless – or those who need temporary shelter – the weather can be dangerous, but safety is available through Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church’s Cold Weather Shelter.

“This is what God wants us to do, so we’re going to do it. The need is out there,” said Amy Mott, who coordinates the shelter.

Wesley Memorial operates the shelter from November to March when temperatures are at or below 30 degrees. Guests are provided with a hot meal and access to hot showers, as well as a safe, warm place to spend the night. The shelter opens at 5:30 p.m. and closes at 7 a.m. on days when in operation.

Mott said organizers go by The Weather Channel’s website, weather.com, to determine the temperature. The decision of whether to open is made 24 hours in advance – based on the forecast. She said the shelter is slated to be open now through at least Thursday.

Wesley Memorial’s shelter started four years ago as the vision of a 16-year-old youth member who discovered Cleveland only had one emergency shelter.

“It was something that was on her heart,” Mott said, adding the young woman is now a student in college and volunteers at the shelter on weekends she’s home.

“I did the homeless census for the United Way,” Mott said. “There are 539 homeless in Cleveland – probably more the census didn’t show – and 64 beds in the shelter.”

Mott said the shelter can house 14 people at a time on a first-come, first-served basis.

“If they spend the night and tell us they’re coming back the next day, we’ll hold their place until 6 o’clock,” she added. “We have probably four people who have come every year the shelter has been open.”

If they have to turn people away, Mott said it is suggested they go to Cleveland’s emergency shelter.

Wesley Memorial’s Cold Weather Shelter has been open 26 nights since Nov. 19, 2017, and 40 different guests have been given shelter in that time. Adult guests range in age from their mid-20s to nearly 60. So far this season the shelter has been full twice.

Mott said 46 volunteers help run the shelter. A shelter board member is present during part of each evening the shelter is open, from opening at 5:30 p.m. until volunteers arrive. You don’t have to be a church member to volunteer, and free training is offered.

“We can house men, women and families,” Mott said, noting there are separate communal rooms for men and women, and one room for a single family with children.

Each guest must fill out a form to verify they have never been convicted of crimes against children. Mott said that is a licensing requirement related to the Wesley Kids program, which begins after the shelter closes at 7 a.m. Guests must be able to negotiate stairs on their own as there is no elevator available.

Guests must be sober to stay because there is an absolute zero tolerance policy for threatening comments/behaviors and/or drugs.

Mott said the Cold Weather Shelter program is regulated by the Bradley County Health Department, which means all food must be prepared in the church’s licensed kitchen, or be from a restaurant or grocery store. She said that restriction has cut down the ability to participate for some people who contributed by bringing food.

While monetary donations are appreciated, Mott said donations of hot chocolate and apple cider packets, and individually wrapped snacks are needed; those items are served from when the shelter opens at 5:30 p.m. until dinner at 6. After guests go upstairs to the shower facilities and sleeping areas, the only food or drink allowed is bottled water.

And while Mott uses the word “guests” when discussing services available at the shelter, she said it is not the best descriptor.

“They’re not just our guests, they’re our friends,” she said, noting volunteers have helped some find permanent housing. “We have visited them in the hospital. We have attended the funerals of those who have passed away.”

Mott said the shelter is funded only through donations and “it is not in the church budget at all.”

“We would love to have the community involved in this … this is a ministry for the community,” she said.

You can give online by texting an amount and 'CWS' to 423-200-4021. Also, if you are interested and available to serve with this ministry, visit wesleymemorialchurch.com, click on the Wesley Memorial Cold Weather Shelter button, fill out the contact information and someone will follow up with you.

For more information, call Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church at 423-472-9578.

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