Homeless Find Warmth — Temporarily

Homeless Find Warmth — Temporarily

With shelters full, Good Shepherd Alliance opens new center early when temperatures plummet.

Living in his car since Jan. 1, a Sterling man needed a place to stay Saturday night when temperatures dropped down to 6 degrees.

The man's wife and four children had temporarily moved in with his wife's family, but he was homeless.

"We got somebody off the streets," said Erin Ronlov, director of social services at Good Shepherd Alliance (GSA), Inc. "I like the fact we are prepared to deal with people if they are out in the cold. ... At least we know, if someone called, we could get them here somehow, some way."

The county's emergency services identified the man through Head Start, a program his children attend, and contacted Good Shepherd Alliance (GSA), Inc., asking if the non-profit organization had an opening at its 12-bed men's shelter. Both the county's family shelters, which can house 24 single women and families, and GSA's two shelters able to house 27 single men and women and families, were at capacity. The shelters did not have any empty beds last weekend to accommodate homeless residents having to face a night on the streets when temperatures were expected to drop below zero degrees with the wind chill.

THE COUNTY CONTACTED GSA Friday afternoon to find out if the organization's Warming Center had yet opened in Leesburg after receiving 11 calls for help. By mid-February, GSA plans to provide up to nine residents with a place to sleep during the coldest nights at a Cape Cod-style house any time temperatures drop below 40 degrees.

In turn, GSA contacted other non-profit organizations and within two hours obtained enough supplies and food to temporarily open the Warming Center on both Saturday and Sunday.

"When difficult situations arise, it's good to see organizations come together ... and make things happen," said John Brothers, GSA's executive director. "By 5 o'clock, it was all planned and we were ready to go. They said, 'Let's do it,' and we found ways to do it."

The Loudoun County Chapter of the American Red Cross agreed to provide volunteers to staff the Warming Center, along with cots and blankets, while Loudoun Interfaith Relief, Inc. provided two days supply of food. GSA has cots on order that are expected to arrive next week.

"It's saddening to me to think we have to have this, but I'm grateful that are we are able to do this for people so they are not out in the cold," said Erin Ronlov, who as director of social services for GSA stayed the night Saturday to help take in residents and provide them with case management services. "I like the fact we're available if people need us."

THE STERLING MAN was the only one to arrive on Saturday. He returned on Sunday night, along with two other men and a woman.

"He was very grateful," Ronlov said. The man arrived at 8 p.m. just as the doors opened after waiting for an hour in his car. "We gave him something to eat, and he fell right asleep."

By Monday, GSA had an opening at the men's shelter, where the man will be able to stay for up to 89 days while he looks for housing for him and his family.

"All the clients that come in, we're going to make sure they're self-sufficient," Brothers said.

GSA assists clients at the shelters and plans to do so at the Warming Center and a drop-in center, providing nearly the same services except for a continuous place to stay. At the Warming Center, GSA plans to include a year-round day service to provide homeless residents with showers, food, lockers, laundry services, clothing and information about human services.

In addition, GSA will help the residents develop a self-sufficiency plan, find housing and work and, if needed, further their education. The day service will give them access to the tools they need for the job search through a communication center, which will include a telephone, fax machine, computer and eight mailboxes that are checked by staff, along with a job announcement board.

"Anything someone would need in a difficult situation like that, this place will help them get it," Brothers said. "The idea is to give them more than just a meal. We want to give them the tools and resources they need to become self-sufficient."