Doug Macias, standing, and Jerry Purcell, seated at right, led a Jan. 3 meeting of nearly 50 people who are making a plan for warming shelters and other resources. Photo by Bob Hansen

Goal is to have something for this year, then plan for future needs

A new plan for warming shelters and a program for operating them may be in place by the end of January.

Almost 50 people in a Jan. 3 meeting agreed to have a plan in place for warming centers for homeless people and others who need them in Richmond. They represent several nonprofit agencies, churches and government agencies. Some people came out of personal concern.

Pushed along an agenda by Doug Macias and Jerry Purcell, in just over an hour they organized into focus groups that were to report their work at another meeting on Jan. 10.

An immediate needs group will try to come up with a plan for the rest of this winter. Longer-term, small groups are focused on developing a mission, policies, needs assessment, funding, locations, volunteers and follow-up with people who use the shelters.

The meeting is the third that arose from concern over where unhoused people would stay during subzero temperatures forecast in late December. Although there are two homeless shelters in Richmond, there were no warming stations that would be open 24/7 until the city decided on Dec. 22 to open a large meeting room in the Municipal Building for Christmas weekend.

One concern is that homeless people would take shelter in abandoned buildings that could accidentally catch fire as occupants tried to heat them.

Macias, community development manager at NATCO Credit Union, said the city building shelter became “a big win” for community efforts to offer a warm place to stay. Part of that is because several volunteers went to places in the city where homeless people gather and brought them to the city building. That had not been done in the past.

But the larger win, he said, has come from getting concerned people from many different groups to come together. From that weekend, a few people gathered over coffee and talked of having a better plan for offering warming centers. That led to about 20 people meeting on Dec. 28 and to the Jan. 3 meeting with more than twice that.

Macias noted that many people stayed after the meeting adjourned, talking about how they can work together. “People are getting to know people that they didn’t know before.”

He said the group will decide on a plan and establish a program for warming shelters. Then, as needs are identified, it might move on to other projects.

Purcell, a battalion chief with the Richmond Fire Department, said he envisions identifying a location or locations for warming centers. He suggested having a trailer stocked with all the equipment – tables, chairs, blankets – needed to set up a warming station in a hurry when needed. The warming center operators would have money to buy temporary supplies – food, water and paper goods – when needed. Trained volunteers would then keep the warming shelters open.

Macias said he hopes the group will develop a list of existing programs and resources that will be used to identify what needs are not being met. Then, the group would decide on a program to fill those needs.

Several people in the group offered suggestions of vacant buildings in the central city that might be available for use as a warming shelter.

But, said Purcell, “The key element is bringing all these people together and all their resources, so they can get their hardware in place. There has been a lack of cross communications and a guarding of resources.”

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Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.