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Bone-chilling temps have homeless shelters preparing for more people

POSTED: January 16, 2009 12:26 a.m.
TOM REED /The Times

Dwayne Sims stacks blankets Thursday at Good News at Noon. The shelter was expecting a higher number of homeless people due to the overnight cold, and extra rooms were cleared for the overflow.

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With the wind chill expected to drop to zero overnight, Thomas Ramirez and others at Gainesville’s Good News at Noon shelter and ministry scrambled to make room for what they expected to be a rush of less fortunate folks coming in from the cold.

The blast of Arctic cold flowing down across the eastern United States was expected to drop temperatures into the teens by this morning.

"There’s no telling how many people will show up, but we think it will be pretty big," Ramirez said.

The shelter normally only has room for 15 or 16 people.

"We’re going to try to put people in areas where we don’t normally have people sleeping," Ramirez said. Converted areas included a dry foods storage room and a space adjacent to the laundry room.

"Even if we have to pack them in like sardines, whatever we have to do to get them out of the freezing cold, we will do," Ramirez said. "I was homeless myself once, so I know how it is."

At Set Free Ministries, a plain white cinder block building on Dorsey Street, the Bible-based mission was waiving some of its rules for folks looking to escape the bitter cold. The ministry, which has about 65 men sleeping at its facility on a typical night, usually requires those who stay to sign a 60- to 90-day contract that includes daily Bible study.

But on nights like Thursday, Set Free lets in those who just want to stay a night.

"Obviously, we want to be as accommodating as we can," Set Free Ministries office manager John Paul said. "We don’t want anybody out in weather like this."

The ministry puts men up in bunk beds, but if those run out, they may resort to bedrolls or blankets on the floor. "They might have to sleep on the floor, but it’s a warm floor," Paul said.

John Zanders, a divisional resource development director for the Salvation Army’s Georgia Division, said his organization sees as much as a 30 percent increase in shelter use during the coldest nights of the year. While the Salvation Army relaxes some of its rules on subfreezing nights, they still stick to a schedule of in by 10 p.m. and out by 7 a.m.

"We generally find that those who come in on these cold nights are those who don’t want to come in regularly because they like to live by their own rules," Zanders said.

Frigid temperatures are expected through Saturday, with the high today not expected to get above freezing, said Robert Beasley, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Peachtree City office.

Wind chills early this morning should be in the single digits, with winds diminishing later in the morning. The mercury tonight should drop in the 20s, and in parts of Northeast Georgia could vary according to topography, from 18 degrees at the ridgetops to as low as 8 degrees in the valleys.

The chance of snow or sleet this weekend is slight. Temperatures by Sunday could be high enough that any of the minor precipitation predicted won’t be frozen, Beasley said. Forecasters aren’t calling for any major precipitation in the region over the next seven days.



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