Wake County

Emergency shelters make space as temperatures drop

Guests of the South Wilmington Street Center eat breakfast on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2016.
Guests of the South Wilmington Street Center eat breakfast on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2016. News & Observer

An unusually large group of men sat in the South Wilmington Street Center cafeteria Tuesday afternoon, a time when most are encouraged to be out working, looking for work, or volunteering.

The Wake County-run homeless shelter for men was operating in “white flag,” cold weather mode, meaning that it adds more beds at night and lets people stay indoors during the day.

Raleigh shelters in the white flag network break out extra mattresses, mats and sofa space when temperatures fall to 32 or below, or when it’s raining and 38 degrees or below.

Mark A. Henderson is used to walking around Raleigh as he learns about the city and prepares to establish a business as a new resident from Florida. Tuesday’s cold weather kept him inside the South Wilmington Street Center, where he spent time refining his business plan, talking with friends and thinking up ideas on how to help homeless people. A resident of South Wilmington Street for 57 days, he’s preparing to leave the shelter for housing arranged through a volunteer group that helps veterans.

“You would like to get out to access the resources Raleigh has to offer,” said Henderson, a 56-year-old Air Force veteran and chef. “But it’s hard when it’s so cold.”

The frigid temperatures mean more people living on the street seek shelter indoors. South Wilmington Street has a usual capacity of 234 people. Some cold nights, they get 30 to 50 more people. On Monday night, 100 extra people came in, said Frank Lawrence, the center’s director.

White flags motivate people to get inside, said Alice McGee, director of Church in the Woods, which searches for and provides supplies to homeless people living outdoors. But some people don’t want to go inside, she said. Some husbands and wives don’t want to be separated, some people don’t want to leave their pets, and some shun shelters because of mental disabilities or addictions.

McGee and other volunteers have delivered about 40 to 50 propane tanks to people living outside, and they need more.

“They don’t last long in this weather,” she said.

Healing Transitions in Raleigh uses whatever beds and mats it has to shelter extra people overnight, said James Kirkman, detox coordinator.

People seeking emergency shelter on cold nights come in at 4 p.m. for a meal and shower, and leave after breakfast the next morning.

“We absorb everybody we can,” Kirkman said.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner

Wake County’s ‘white flag’ network offering shelter on the coldest nights

For men:

Wilmington Street Center, 1420 S. Wilmington Street, Raleigh

Healing Transitions, 1251 Goode St., Raleigh

For women with children:

Salvation Army, 1863 Capital Blvd., Raleigh

Raleigh Rescue Mission, 314 E. Hargett St., Raleigh

For women:

Raleigh Rescue Mission

Healing Transitions

Helen Wright Center for Women, 401 W. Cabarrus St., Raleigh