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Published: Thursday, 1/15/2009

Shelters find room for homeless as temperatures fall below zero


Anthony Patrick says he is staying in the Cherry Street Mission because his living arrangement with a friend soured. Anthony Patrick says he is staying in the Cherry Street Mission because his living arrangement with a friend soured.

It happens on more than a few occasions each winter, those days when temperatures drop so low, so bone-numbing and excruciatingly cold, that staff of area homeless shelters become logistical magicians: making beds appear out of nowhere.

Such efforts help to ensure that just about anyone in Toledo who needs a warm place to sleep will find one.

And with arctic-like weather predicted to linger through the week, shelters are again bracing for record levels of nightly visitors.

Cherry Street Mission Ministries is prepared for more than 200 visitors at its 17th Street shelter, which sleeps about 170 men during summer months but handled a near-record 202 visitors the weekend before Christmas, when the mercury hovered around zero coupled with blustery winds.

For this week, the National Weather Service forecasts a high of just 5 degrees today, with wind chills down to minus 17 degrees as a wind chill advisory remains in effect through Saturday afternoon.

Temperatures tonight are to plummet to minus 10, with accumulation of less than half an inch of snow possible throughout the day.

Tomorrow is expected to be even colder during the day, with a 2-degree high and a low of minus 7 at night.

The wind chill is expected to dip to minus 31.

James Studer says freezing weather just adds misery to his homeless predicament. James Studer says freezing weather just adds misery to his homeless predicament.

Shelter workers say extreme cold weather brings in even the most reluctant and stubborn of the homeless, who would normally be squatting in vacant buildings or sleeping in cars or unheated garages. The colder the temperature, the more visitors.

The 17th Street shelter only has 150 beds, and so makes use of 50 cots plus its additional stores of 30 mats, said Charles Allen, director of men's ministries.

"We never turn away," Mr. Allen said. "We use meeting rooms, our boardrooms - we just push tables aside and put mats out or put cots out."

The Sparrow's Nest shelter held a record 68 women a night last weekend, and has since held steady with 66 nightly guests, said Director Angie Flanner.

As startling as it may seem, some homeless choose to sleep outside in freezing conditions and only seek shelter when the cold gets unbearable.

"I have talked to a few men who said they would rather just sleep outside by themselves under a bridge," Ms. Flanner said. "We're here to make sure they don't have to do that."

Formerly homeless himself, Fred Rayford, 47, of Oregon, said he always found warm lodging in Toledo when he needed it.

"With the shelters that they have there's no need to be cold. If they're cold, it's 'cause they want to be cold, " said Mr. Rayford, a past client of Cherry Street Mission who visited friends at its Madison Avenue facility.

But capacity at shelters is not unlimited; some in northwest Ohio are already full.

"We are typically turning away three to four people per week who we just don't have room for," said Shannon Cooley, administrator of Sanctuary of Williams County Shelter in Bryan, where the shelter's four apartments are full with 19 people. "We try to refer them to other shelters in the area."

Dewey Harris, assistant director of the City Mission of Findlay, said his shelter is full, but so far this winter they have not had to turn anyone away.

During his current two-month stay at Cherry Street Mission's 17th Street shelter, Anthony Patrick, 46, said he has noticed a surge in visitors each time the temperature drops.

Mr. Patrick, a laid-off residential construction worker, said he was staying with a girlfriend and checked in at the shelter after their relationship soured.

James Studer, also 46, arrived at the shelter yesterday afternoon with two bags and a snow-covered jacket and hat.

"It's freezing out there. The winter weather makes it rougher," Mr. Studer said of his homeless and out-of-work predicament.

"If it was summer I probably would not gripe that much, but you got to take each season as it is," he said.

Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.

Contact JC Reindl at:


or 419-724-6065.

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