Cold weather crisis shelter volunteers prepare for winter
Springfield’s Cold Weather Crisis Shelter program provides a warm bed to those in need when nights get below freezing. KSMU visited one shelter site to see how volunteers make it work.
Lisa Landrigan is cold weather crisis shelter coordinator for Unity of Springfield. One of 11 organizations and churches in the Cold Weather Crisis Shelter program.
This will be Unity’s third year of involvement. Lisa gave me a tour of their space and emphasized how essential volunteers are to the program, from organizing everything to greeting people and providing a warm meal and just being present through the night. Landrigan and volunteer Sue Baggett-Day sat down to give me a sense of an average evening.
She volunteers for what they call the hospitality shift. She says guests start arriving about seven. She checks them in, gets their name and assigns them a cot and a reusable cup.
They ask that guests turn over anything that might be considered a weapon, like a knife, which they get back the next morning. Then they serve food, typically a hot meal provided by volunteers or snacks and hot cocoa, and they give people a chance to browse any resources they have to give away. Sue says most people are exhausted by the time they make it in. Many skip everything and go right to bed. She says she thinks about that exhaustion, and she feels blessed on those nights she volunteers, saying it’s a small sacrifice of time to make sure the 25 people Unity has space for, have a warm bed for the night.
As the night goes on, overnight volunteers come in.
Landrigan says “they get everyone settled in, dim the lights and then turn the lights off. Then our overnight volunteers can split the rest of the time sleeping, so each one gets a four-to-five-hour nap.”
Overnight volunteers may receive an additional guest from outreach workers or help keep someone who can’t sleep company.
Evenings are largely quiet, but shelters cannot be open at all without overnight volunteers, making this help the highest need they have. Landrigan says they haven’t had a night where they couldn’t open, but it's been close and sometimes ends with a scramble. She says she is always watching the weather and trying to stay ahead of any needs. Sometimes just a few degrees make the difference between whether the shelter is open or not. She tells me if they had the volunteers, she’d love to be open every night during winter, explaining that those few degrees don’t mean much to someone who has to sleep outside.
The Cold Weather Crisis Shelters were open 60 nights last winter, providing over 10,000 beds during that time.
The program is managed by the Community Partnership of the Ozarks. Unity does accept all genders, but some sites are men or women only, and only one site, Revive 66 Campground, accepts pets. Those 18 and younger can shelter at the YouthConnect Center. Landrigan assured me that every effort is made to never have to turn anyone away.
Those needing access to a crisis cold weather shelter may sign up and get a free dinner at Grace United Methodist Church in downtown Springfield, starting at 5:30. Transportation to different area shelters will be conducted from there.
To check if shelters are open, you can follow the Crisis Cold Weather Shelter Updates Facebook group, find the ShelterSGF app in your app store, or call the direct shelter line at 417-605-2698.
A full list of shelter sites and information about volunteering can be found at cpozarks.org.
For anyone considering helping out, Landrigan says folks often doubt themselves, but if you are caring, compassionate and capable of carrying on a conversation, you’d be a great volunteer.
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