Inclement weather disrupts routines, even for homeless

March 3, 2014

By Scott Sexton/Winston-Salem Journal

Bethesda's Night Shelter

The impending arrival of rain, sleet and snow capsized and disrupted many routines Monday.

The early dismissal of schools left parents scrambling to take off work or arrange early day care. The courts shut down, further clogging a system already overrun.

And the public library downtown closed its doors early, too, forcing patrons with no other place to go to trudge through sleet for a chance to shoehorn into the day shelter at Bethesda Center for the Homeless — the only one of its kind in the Camel City.

“When it is cold, it can definitely be overwhelming,” said Carl Potter, the day shelter director. “We’re set up for 70, but we don’t turn anybody away.”

Always busy

By the lunch hour, it was painfully obvious that the day shelter was going to blow way past its ideal capacity.

One by one, a constant stream of men and women showed up at the door as the temperatures dropped and the winds picked up. They flashed ID cards at a staff member at a reception desk, placed backpacks, plastic shopping bags and cell phones on a flimsy wooden table, and stepped through a metal detector into the warmth inside.

A white dry erase board listed the entire month’s activities: Life Skills classes. Bible studies. AA and VA meetings every Tuesday. A photocopied list of dentists who take Medicaid was tacked to a bulletin board on the next wall.

The only official day shelter that serves the homeless in Winston-Salem is always a busy place. And days such as Monday only serve to make it busier.

“Bethesda is pretty much open 24/7,” said Peggy Galloway, the center’s executive director. “(The day shelter) opens when the night shelter closes. We know we’re going to have a packed house, more than full.”

Indeed it was.

Monday is “staffing day,” which means that workers spend a good chunk of the day checking with clients, new and old, assessing their needs and trying to match them with programs that could impact their lives positively.

Down the hall, places are provided where homeless clients can check email, do their laundry or get a hot shower.

What they won’t do, Galloway said — sounding every bit like the parent of a teenager — is veg out in front of the idiot box. Television is available in the day shelter, but staff members try not to turn it on until later in the afternoon.

“It keeps them from doing work that can improve their situation,” she said.

Just an annoyance

On the steps outside the glass doors leading to the reception area, Ian Collins, 32, shared a cigarette with another man while casting a wary eye to the sky.

“The snow’s coming,” he said. “The schools closed three hours early and the courthouse did, too.”

The stubborn return of winter disrupts and inconveniences the lives of the city’s homeless, the same as it does everyone else.

“Pretty much,” Collins said. “It messes up a lot. People get into the same routines.”

Your routine might involve scrambling to pack a kid’s lunch or trying to squeeze in a trip to the YMCA before driving to the office. Men such as Collins try to figure out where they’re going to eat or how they’ll find shelter from a late winter storm.

A much more difficult and harrowing proposition, wouldn’t you agree?

Then again, when compared to the dangers of living in the street, dealing with a little snow and sleet can be but a mere annoyance.

“Did you hear anything about what happened at the overflow?” Collins asked, referring to a stabbing Sunday night at an emergency shelter at First Presbyterian Church.

He mentioned the incident in a matter-of-fact sort of way. He had helped pull the assailant off the 45-year-old victim, and he wanted to know if the attacker had been arrested. He was.

“It’s kind of bad to say, but I’m used to it,” Collins said.

Hearing from a man who has grown accustomed to a constant threat of violence sure made scraping my windshield seem a whole lot less onerous.

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