Homeless families find shelter from bitter cold at day center

Veronica Jackson keeps an eye on her son, Aiden, left, as Britnie Terry holds her daughter, Caitlin, at the day center at The Salvation Army on North Fourth Street. Homeless families are offered a daytime refuge at the agency.

The hours between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., especially on Sundays, were always the biggest challenge for the Terry family. During the days, the homeless family improvised to keep warm, wandering the aisles for long hours at Wal-Mart and Mesa Mall or camping out at a public library.

It was trickier on Sundays, when public buses do not run. Like everyone else at North Avenue’s Homeward Bound shelter, the family had to eat, gather its belongings and be out the door by 8 a.m., not to be allowed back indoors until winter’s darkness cloaks the city at 5 p.m.

They would walk from the shelter, making a beeline for the bathrooms at Columbine Park. That’s where they spent hours huddled around the heat from the hand dryers, using the bathroom counters as a table to eat meals.

“I was seven-and-a-half months pregnant when I was in the shelter,” Britnie Terry said. “Back then I said I didn’t want to have my kid in the shelter. I never wanted this ...” she said, her voice trailing off.

The Terrys now spend nights at the shelter, but they’ve recently found a cozy landing place during the season’s bitterly cold days. On a recent afternoon, the Terrys and another family, the Jacksons, got as comfortable as possible inside the gymnasium at The Salvation Army, 1235 N. Fourth St.

At least for now, the room serves as a solution to a much-discussed community need for shelter for homeless families during the day. There, the families could sit on a couch and watch cartoon movies on TV. They played with their children, 9-month-old Caitlin and 10-month-old Aiden, two happy toddlers on the verge of taking their first steps.

“A couple weeks before Christmas, we made a space for families with kids to come in out of the cold,” Salvation Army Capt. Terrie Wilson said. “This gives them an alternate place to be.”

Catholic Outreach of the Grand Valley provides a day shelter, but it is not designed for families.

The Salvation Army was in the middle of its Christmas donation drives of food and toys when workers and homeless families helped to make space in The Salvation Army’s green-carpeted gym. Now, the number of families fluctuates on a daily basis.

One family recently found housing, a small victory for most people, but hailed as an especially fortunate event among families who are accustomed to living with the clothes on their backs or stowing all their belongings in a vehicle.

Terry said she has been on a waiting list to receive a subsidized-housing voucher for nearly three months. She lost her previous home when the bills became overwhelming, she said.

Thanks to an overflow program at Homeward Bound, a number of single men each night are taken to local churches to sleep for the night. That freed up space at the shelter for an increase in homeless families, said the shelter’s executive director, Gi Moon.

Overall, the shelter has been taking on more people lately as folks who were living in cars or on porches decided they could no longer take the freezing nighttime temperatures, she said.

“They were OK until it really turned cold,” Moon said.

At The Salvation Army, workers offer the families snacks if they are hungry. A dad changed his daughter’s diaper on the floor. Another man, covered in a blanket, slept soundly on a couch. Terry and a friend she met at the shelter, Veronica Jackson, sat on the floor and doted on their children.

“It’s just hard not having a place,” Jackson said, talking about two days during which she slept with her family in their van.

“We really can’t complain,” Terry said, looking around the gym. “It’s a warm place. It’s better for our kids.”


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