It’s 6:30 a.m. and dozens of nameless people — homeless residents — are already swarming downtown Toledo streets, searching for shelter from the cold and snow.
Many move with hunched shoulders and a slow, tired shuffle. A brown-haired man in his 30s clutches a brown knapsack as he heads down Jefferson Avenue. Dressed in a green winter coat, he shakes his head and replies, “I’m not sure,” when asked where he’s going.
Every morning hundreds of Toledo’s homeless are required to leave St. Paul’s Community Center and Cherry Street Mission, which offer overnight shelter for them. This winter’s bitter cold and relentless snow has been especially punishing on Toledo’s most vulnerable.
“I think this is the worst winter we’ve ever had,” said Clark Felgner, 48, who fell on hard times when he was laid off in 2008. Since then, Mr. Felgner spends most nights at shelters or occasionally with relatives.
He doesn’t know how much snow has fallen in Toledo this winter. “I don’t care,” if Toledo has a record-breaking snow fall this year, he admits. He has more pressing problems to worry about, like where he’s going to find warmth during the day and shelter in the evening.
For the last week that’s also been a concern for Marcia Langenderfer, executive director of St. Paul’s Community Center. The center’s “winter crisis” program, which provides overnight shelter for Toledo’s homeless, ran out of funds last week, she said.
Despite the lack of funds, the center has continued to keep its doors open. For Ms. Langenderfer, there is no other choice when human lives are at stake.
“Where else would they go?” Ms. Langenderfer asked, noting that her center accepts people with mental illness that other shelters may turn away. “We're seeking additional funding to remain open until mid-March.”
The winter crisis program initially received funds to operate from January through February, Ms. Langenderfer said. But the center allowed homeless residents to stay 24 hours a day during the most dangerous, coldest days of January and February, because people had nowhere else to go.
Those extended shelter hours, which included extra meals, staff overtime, and activities for the homeless, quickly depleted the budget. Because of the high need, the center is nearly out of winter necessities such as warm socks, gloves, hats, and snow boots, items that are usually donated by the community and given to the homeless, Ms. Langenderfer said.
On Tuesday morning, Mr. Felgner and dozens of other homeless people decide to eat breakfast before heading out for the day.
Kitchen manager Houston Hart on this morning had prepared scrambled eggs, bacon, and hash browns and serves each resident hearty portions of each. Mr. Hart also cooks lunch and dinner, which the homeless are invited to return and enjoy. He serves about 75 meals each morning, Mr. Hart estimates.
Mr. Felgner’s biggest winter complaint is that people aren’t shoveling their sidewalks, forcing him to walk in the road which can be dangerous. In January, many motorists were speeding during Level 3 alerts, he said.
“I was trying to walk from Detroit Avenue to Heatherdowns, but it was like I was invisible,” he said. “I kept getting splashed; cars were speeding.”
His more immediate concern is where to spend the day. He was hoping to spend some time with his sister, but those plans fell through. He lingers at St. Paul’s as long as he can.
By time he finishes breakfast it’s 8:30 a.m. and he’s decided, “I’m going to the library.”
This year’s harsh winter has erased what few opportunities John Smith, 49, of Toledo has had to earn a little money.
“I’m holding up OK,” Mr. Smith said. “I don’t have a lot of work to do because I usually work outside doing odd jobs.”
By 7 a.m., Mr. Smith is already bundled up and ready to leave St. Paul’s. He takes a peek outside at the 4 inches of snow that fell overnight, walks back into the center, and plops himself dejectedly into a plastic chair.
“It’s been a bad winter,” said Mr. Smith, his tired eyes filled with helpless frustration. “It’s so bitter cold. But we just have to deal with it. I just have to take it each day at a time and try to find someplace warm.”
A few minutes later he’s disappeared into the early morning darkness, seeking shelter from the cold and snow for another day.
Contact Federico Martinez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.