Rails Tices, 24, sat outside of a Wendy’s in Garner, in the grass with his dog and a friend, holding up a sign that said “Cold. Any money would help.”
His friend coughed every few minutes.
It was 23 degrees outside and the temperature was expected to drop below the teens that night. As a winter mix swept through the Triangle, freezing temperatures iced roads, making it dangerous for drivers, and prompting Governor Pat McCrory to issue a State of Emergency, warning people to get indoors.
“Right now I’m trying to get 20 more dollars so I can get into a hotel room so my road dog over here can stop coughing,” Tices said. “He’s got frost bite on his lungs and the cold kind of doesn’t help it.”
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Some people stopped to give him money. Others drove by.
Alice McGee, 72, director of Church in the Woods, which ministers to and provides outreach to homeless people in the area, said there aren’t that many options out there for the homeless and no places in Garner. She said she’s seen a few homeless people in the hospital because of pneumonia. Garner United Methodist opened up its doors as a White Flag shelter on Monday but did not open up Tuesday through Friday.
Two people died in east Raleigh last week and police suspect their deaths were related to exposure to the elements. Their bodies were found in an undeveloped area off Corporation Parkway.
White Flag is a program that allows places to provide shelter and safety to people who may not have warmth during inclement weather.
When weather is under 32 degrees or under 38 degrees with precipitation, the white flag goes up.
“There is a severe lack of resources for places to get warm,” McGee, a Garner resident, said. “Sometimes there’s a friend they can go to, but a lot of them have no one.”
That is the case for Tices, a traveler, who had to spend one night outside in a sleeping bag and blanket cuddled up with a pit bull he calls his daughter.
There are 40 people experiencing homelessness in Garner, McGee said.
The nearest emergency shelter in Garner is South Wilmington Street Center for men and Urban Ministries of Wake County Helen Wright Center for Women.
Frank Lawrence, the shelter manager for the South Wilmington Street Center, said often times on very cold nights they exceed their capacity. The White Flag program allows them to do that. Thursday night, temperatures dropped to 5 degrees.
“We had a total of 315 people last night, 81 above our normal capacity,” Lawrence said.
Getting to shelters is another obstacle.
“We have a lot of need,” McGee said. “It’s hard for homeless people to get to traveling services. And it’s too far to walk from Garner.”
Lt. Chris Clayton, spokesman for the Garner Police Department, said if officers come across people who are homeless, then they take them to shelters, if they want to go.
But McGee said some people are afraid to go when they know they may have outstanding warrants for their arrests.
Deon Russo, 32, who works at Wendy’s in Garner, has been staying at South Wilmington Street Center when its cold out. He said if you see people on the streets in the cold, it tends to be by choice for whatever reason. He said although, the shelter may have reached capacity, there still is enough room. Some people just choose not to go.
“If you see a person on the streets and they are homeless, they done did something to the shelter system because it’s too many shelters out here to be handlers, Russo said. “So a lot of them choose to be in the streets.”
Bill Howard works at Walmart and tries to mentor some of the homeless people that come in and walk the aises when its cold out. He agreed with Russo.
“I’ve been seeing it for years. They come in this store,” Howard said. “They choose to be out there. They like their freedom. They stand out there and borrow money, and they come in here and buy a case of beer.”