Amid the freeze, Triangle shelters raise the white flag of hope

Aerial scenes of snow in downtown Raleigh

Drone footage of the snow covering parts of downtown Raleigh Thursday morning, January 24, 2017.
Up Next
Drone footage of the snow covering parts of downtown Raleigh Thursday morning, January 24, 2017.

Any day is a hard day in a homeless shelter. But when brutal cold weather sweeps in, as it has in North Carolina and the Triangle this week, the days and nights are all the worse.

As reported by The News & Observer’s Lynn Bonner, some shelters operate in a “white flag” status, meaning that shelters that normally try to help people look for work during the day and have limited bed space at night are for the duration of the cold snap allowing people to stay inside during the day and adding more beds at night.

For those many thousands of families trying to take some enjoyment from the cold, gathering in front of fireplaces at home, the notion of a simple cot in a room with others to simply stay alive is something of a disconnect.

But it is reality for thousands of people.

One center director found on a recently frigid night that an extra 100 people came seeking shelter. There will be more in the days to come, and this month and February are the toughest in this area for those without permanent homes.

There are other complications. The good people at Church in the Woods provide and search for shelter for the homeless, but Alice McGee, the group’s director, says there are people who don’t want to come inside. They don’t wish to leave pets behind, or to separate from husbands or wives or partners or may be suffering from mental illness or addictions. The best they can hope for is propane tanks for little heaters.

Most counties in the Triangle also have fuel assistance programs, and Social Services departments will provide information about whatever help might be available.

Citizens can do their part by helping charitable organizations do their part, mainly with funding, or firewood, or nonperishable food. Many churches try to open their doors as best they can.

The Raleigh Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army help women with children, and shelters such as the Wilmington Street Center and Healing Transitions in Raleigh can help homeless men.

Yes, the world is a cold and difficult place for the homeless, each and every day. But it is all the worse when that world is hit by weather extremes. For those with homes, the phrase “come in from the cold” conjures visions of hot chocolate and warming one’s hands by the fire. But for the homeless, it might mean just staying alive. Because life is exactly what is at stake.

People in this region respond to the needs of others, in natural disasters, in hard times such as the Great Recession. They will respond in this awful cold. They will.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer