St. Louis group seeks out homeless in the cold

This Nov. 11, 2013 photo, homeless people and volunteers gather around to hear Preacher Paul Gonnella, 50, center, near the St. Louis riverfront. Established churches and faith-based groups, including Faith Church and the Misfits for Jesus, serve the homeless in the area in years past at the Bob Cassily-designed Rootwad Park. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes,)

This Nov. 11, 2013 photo, homeless people and volunteers gather around to hear Preacher Paul Gonnella, 50, center, near the St. Louis riverfront. Established churches and faith-based groups, including Faith Church and the Misfits for Jesus, serve the homeless in the area in years past at the Bob Cassily-designed Rootwad Park. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes,) Photo by The Associated Press.

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The onset of cold weather means that volunteers with Winter Outreach in St. Louis have sprung into action.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/19m4Bm7 ) reports the grassroots organization offers eight temporary shelters with a combined 100 beds or so to help the homeless when the temperatures turn cold.

Volunteers drive around the city and St. Louis County to look for those in need of shelter. The organization also shuttles people to shelters from the Bridge, a feeding program at Centenary United Methodist Church downtown.

The Housing Resource Center in St. Louis said that 14,155 people requested shelter through the city and St. Louis County through the end of November, but nearly three-fourths of them were unable to be referred to an open space. Families make up the bulk of the requests.

"Most people, they don't think of children so much," said Karen Wallensak, executive director of the Housing Resource Center. "They think of a panhandler down by Busch Stadium, or a half-drunken, half-crazed man down by the riverfront."

Winter Outreach volunteers take to the streets when the temperature dips below 20 degrees, or when it is snowy.

Paul O'Guinn of St. Charles was shuttled to an emergency shelter Wednesday night by Winter Outreach. He hoped to rent a room at a downtown hotel as soon as he has the money.

O'Guinn has been in and out of the hospital and used to sleep in his car before it was towed. Now he can't afford the fee to get it out.

"I am tired of being sick and tired," he said.

Jeff Jensen, who managed the Winter Outreach shuttles Wednesday night, said the region suffers from a lack of housing for the homeless.

"We are trying to fill the gaps," Jensen said. "You have a lot more in common than you think you do. They just find themselves in a different place."

Teka Childress, 56, was motivated to start Winter Outreach after a homeless man died in the cold about eight years ago. Pairs of people started going out in cars and on foot, looking for those in need of shelter. The effort led to the opening of temporary shelters.

On a cold night last week, Chilidress and her driver, Aaron Laxton, took in six people.

Then they saw a mound of blankets on a sidewalk near trash bins. A person was lying underneath.

"We'd love to take you," she said. "It's going to be 7 degrees."

Finally, the blanket moved. The woman said her head hurt, but she didn't want to be taken to shelter. Childress reluctantly relented, but only after stretching more blankets across the woman, then a comforter, and pulling the pile up tight near the woman's head.

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