Concern over warming centers leads to meetings

Community organizers are hopeful that concern over the lack of warm places for homeless people to shelter in Richmond will lead to development of a long-term program.

Several people and community groups became alarmed in December when frigid temperatures were forecast for the Christmas weekend. The two existing shelters for homeless people offer about two dozen beds between them and can set up cots or offer chairs for a few dozen more. But some estimates indicate the number of homeless people could be 200 or more.

At nearly the last minute, Richmond city officials decided to open the Hutton Room in the Municipal Building as a warming center from Dec. 24-26. Temperatures over the Christmas weekend reached below zero.

Following that, a group of concerned people had a meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 28, to talk about finding a more permanent answer. They scheduled a second meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

Ahmet Basgelen, a Richmond resident who regularly volunteers to assist homeless people, said that on Dec. 22, he and others had been trying to see if a church located near downtown could be used as a temporary shelter and warming station. Word came that the city would be opening the Municipal Building. They immediately volunteered to help the city and started asking local stores for donations of supplies. Many responded.

Because they knew that homeless people might not hear of the city’s warming center, he and others drove around and spread the word, taking some people to the warming center.

“I think we had about 15-17 people [using the center],” Basgelen said.

Several other efforts materialized to help homeless people over that weekend, said Laurie Dickson, who has become involved with homeless people at the store she manages. A local factory took up donations and made 15 Christmas stockings for homeless people. A local agency provided money for a few homeless families to stay at a motel. And her store has been receiving donations of goods to help homeless people.

Following the warming center’s closing at 8 a.m. Dec. 26, Basgelen and other volunteers decided to have a meeting about the situation with many who have expressed concern about Richmond’s homeless situation. More than 20 people came to the Dec. 28 meeting at a local pizza restaurant.

The group decided that an immediate goal is to make arrangements for emergency shelter to get through the current winter. Many homeless people would have stayed in abandoned houses and other buildings, he said. Beyond that, a longer term goal is to have a large, permanent shelter, perhaps in a place where existing nonprofits might offer their services as well.

Among those who attended the Dec. 28 meeting was Pastor Dave Eales of Rock Solid Ministries, who started the Refuge of Hope women’s shelter two years ago. His church, at 1024 E. Main St., is open every day and many people without a permanent home come there.

“We need somebody to take the lead,” he said. This meeting was encouraging, he said, because many agencies were represented, including churches, city police, the fire department, county government and existing shelters.

Cathy C. Williams, a Wayne County Council member who attended the meeting, said, “We don’t want to get down to the eleventh hour again without a shelter. We didn’t have anything until the city opened up. Who’s responsible? We need to have someone responsible for providing shelter.”

She would like to see a large shelter developed in or near downtown. She envisions a building where services dealing with mental health, drug addiction and other issues could be offered along with programming that could lead homeless people to better lives.

Basgelen said a larger shelter would be a good addition to the city. He wants it to be what is called a “low barrier” shelter which would serve just about anyone who showed up. Some shelters admit only people who have a photo ID or other requirements that many homeless people cannot meet.

Dickson is the manager at East Side Rent-A-Center at 3761 National Road East. She sees homeless people every day at that store..

“A lot of these are people who have just fallen on hard times,” she said.

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Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.