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Published: Monday, 1/6/2014 - Updated: 1 year ago

Shelters are refuge for homeless, residents whose furnaces fail

Howard Carrington, left, sits on a cot that he will sleep on for the night at St. Paul's Community Center in Toledo. Howard Carrington, left, sits on a cot that he will sleep on for the night at St. Paul's Community Center in Toledo.
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More than 300 homeless Toledoans hunkered down at two emergency shelters as temperatures plunged to dangerously cold levels Monday evening.

The American Red Cross of Northwest Ohio also set up four emergency warming centers throughout Toledo as a precautionary measure, but as of midevening officials said no one had shown up at any of them.

“We didn’t expect a busload of people,” said Deb Angel, shelter manager for the American Red Cross site at the United Auto Workers Local 12 union hall. “But even if we get a couple of people, it will be worth it.”

Each warming-center site was set up with cots, food, and beverages, although officials asked that visitors bring their own pillows, blankets, and toiletries if possible.

City officials asked the Red Cross to keep the Local 12 shelter, 2300 Ashland Ave., operating 24-hours a day until at least Wednesday, Ms. Angel said.

Officials wanted at least one of the sites to remain open to receive people whose pipes froze, or whose furnaces failed and need someplace to go.

Today officials will review whether sites at East Toledo Family Center, Margaret Hunt Senior Center, and East Toledo Senior Center will continue to operate as emergency shelters this week.

Meanwhile, in Perrysburg Township, the Perrysburg Heights Community Center announced it would be open as an emergency shelter until Wednesday.

The center, at 12282 Jefferson St., said it was open to anyone in northwest Ohio, with food available.

Homeless men occupy cots for the night at St. Paul's Community Center in Toledo, Ohio. Homeless men occupy cots for the night at St. Paul's Community Center in Toledo, Ohio.
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Staff at St. Paul’s Community Center were busy setting up extra cots as more homeless people arrived throughout the night.

Approximately 65 people were preparing to spend the night at the facility as of 8 p.m.

More people would likely show up on an average winter night, said Debra Renollet, a winter crisis manager at St. Paul’s, but the extreme cold was paradoxically reducing the headcount.

“Usually we would expect to see more, but many people found places to stay earlier and aren’t coming out,” she said. “Wherever they went, they’re hunkered down.”

St. Paul’s Community Center normally offers only an overnight crisis shelter during the winter, but because of dangerously cold temperatures and wind chills, the center is allowing people to stay until Wednesday, Ms. Renollet said.

The extra hours will likely affect the overall budget of the winter-crisis program, which barely has enough money to operate for two months, Ms. Renollet said, but funding isn’t the top priority right now.

“People have been coming in cold and frost-bitten,” she said. “The most important thing we want to do is keep people from freezing.”

Many at St. Paul’s are older adults who are struggling with mental health issues, center officials said.

Howard Carrington, 53, who has been homeless for nine months, acknowledged that he has struggled with mental health for several years.

“I have anger issues when I’m not on my meds,” Mr. Carrington said. “But I can’t always afford my meds.”

Mr. Carrington, who often sleeps in apartment-building hallways and counts among his few possessions three tattered blankets, has been kicked out of several shelters before because of his anger. But St. Paul's allowed him to stay this week, as long as he took his medication.

“I had to agree to some things when I got here this morning,” he said. “I don’t mind though. If this place wasn’t open to me I’d be out there freezing.”

Robert Soovagian, a 44-year-old Army veteran huddled on a cot nearby, said he’s been homeless ever since the deaths about nine years ago of his parents, with whom he lived after returning from combat in Iraq.

“When my mom and dad died, I ended up on the street,” said Mr. Soovagian, who usually seeks shelter under bridges. “I need; I don’t know. I’m confused. I don’t know what to do; I’m tired. I just know if it wasn’t for this place I wouldn’t be alive tonight.”

The staff at St. Paul’s strove to make their residents comfortable.

Two large television screens were set up in one room so residents could watch the national college-football championship game.

The American Red Cross staffs a warming shelter at UAW Local 12 in Toledo. The American Red Cross staffs a warming shelter at UAW Local 12 in Toledo.
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Others just settled into their cots for an early night's sleep.

“Sometimes the best thing you can do is make people comfortable and help bring a little order to their life,” Ms. Renollet said.

Cherry Street Mission staff tried to do the same for shelter residents Monday night. About 170 men were at their men’s homeless shelter by 8 p.m., said the Rev. Daniel Rogers, the organization’s president and chief executive, while the women's shelter had 70 women.

Those facilities are open around the clock, so people don’t have to go back outdoors into the morning cold, Mr. Rogers said.

Contact Federico Martinez at: fmartinez@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.

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