With the onset of extreme winter weather in the area, local emergency overnight warming stations serving those without shelter experienced more strains than usual.
For the Salvation Army in McKinney, which serves as an overnight warming station for those who need shelter during nights of extreme cold, one of those concerns is volunteers.
“Our volunteer pool's fairly slow, and so we always have to worry about volunteer burnout within these extended time periods, so we've been very aware of that,” Salvation Army Major David Feeser said.
Overnight volunteers help keep an eye on those sleeping to ensure safety and talk with guests at the shelter. The station aims to avoid having a volunteer serve for more than two nights in a row, but there is always a need, Feeser said, especially during the hours of 2 to 4 a.m.
By Tuesday, Feeser said some volunteers had served for three or four nights. Volunteers had also begun to experience their own power outage issues. New volunteers have to undergo a safety program and be approved, which could take a couple of days, Feeser said.
With COVID-19 restrictions in place, the station has a maximum capacity of 50 people, which Feeser expected to reach by the end of the week. Once the station reached capacity, he said, it would refer people to another local warming station.
The warming station at the Salvation Army in McKinney is usually intended to operate on a night-by-night basis based on weather conditions, Feeser said.
“We really didn't expect to open 10 days at a time,” he said. “We were looking more at three or four days at a time. But this weather snuck up on all of us. In fact, it's not just us, it snuck up on the city, it snuck up on everybody.”
That means an impact on facility utilities, Feeser said. On Tuesday, he had someone out to look at the building heater, which was beginning to have problems, to ensure the building would have heat over the next few days.
“So that costs money to hire somebody to come out, it costs money to run the utilities,” Feeser said. “We have to worry about food, we have to worry about incidentals just like anybody at a house.”
The unexpected extended opening results in having higher expenses than might have been budgeted for, he said.
The Plano Overnight Warming Station also experienced some strains in the wake of the extreme weather. By Tuesday the center had used all of its cots and was running out of blankets, Salvation Army Lt. Michael Cain said. The location also expressed a need for extra large and extra-extra large coats, as it had come across many people who didn’t have adequate coats for the weather.
On Tuesday, Cain said the location was in “life-saving” mode for people experiencing homelessness.
“These are temperatures that if people were out on the street, they couldn't make it,” he said. “So we're going into emergency mode, and that's all we're focusing on is getting people off the streets into a warm place.”
Feeser said the McKinney location didn’t need coats or blanket donations.
“We just really need cash donations so that we can buy food and so we can buy other supplies for when we do have the warming station open,” he said.
Donators can mail a cash donation to P.O. Box 2388 in McKinney, Texas, 75069, or donate online, where donations will be routed to a local Salvation Army center based on zip code.