Winter can be brutal to homeless in our midst

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Winter can be brutal. The bitter cold forecast for this week is a reminder of just how dangerous and deadly winter can be, especially for those lacking homes and beds of their own.
Not that we need a reminder. Although the number of homeless in our county and city is small compared to the number in larger towns and cities, we still have homeless people among us. And, there are too few places for them to go to when the snow is blowing and the temperatures are frigid. There are shelters in neighboring Johnson City such as the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Ministry, or the Haven of Mercy, but in Elizabethton, the homeless are at the mercy of a couple of churches, who have willingly the past two winters opened their doors on cold nights to those seeking shelter.
These include River’s Edge Dream Center, 1200 19E Bypass, and Hopwood Memorial Christian Church at Milligan College, which has a homeless ministry in partnership with Family Promise of Johnson City. They have already this winter provided space as a shelter from the recent icy temperatures at the church.
Any day is a hard day when the weather is cold and brutal. For those of us who take enjoyment from the cold, gathering in the warmth of our homes, the notion of a simple cot in a room with others to simply stay alive is something of a disconnect. So is sitting down to a hot meal among strangers.
While your church may not be among those opening its doors to the homeless, citizens can do their part by helping charitable organizations, mainly with funding or nonperishable food, or by offering to help one of these two churches with staffing.
It’s not clear how many people are homeless in the county. The Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness only counted 14 last year, but since there’s no shelter, it’s hard to gather data. However, 14 is low compared to other counties in the area.
ARCH defines “homeless” as any individual currently living in an emergency or domestic violence shelter; living in a place not meant for permanent human habitation, such as an outbuilding, cave, tent, camper or public place or; living in a hotel/motel that is being paid for by a non-profit (church or Red Cross) because they can’t afford to pay for it themselves.
Sometimes, they are just people down on their luck or because of some hardship they find themselves out on the street, or living out of their car.
Officers with the Elizabethton Police Department when they do find someone on the streets on a cold night, such as last night, take them to an area shelter, namely the Salvation Army in Johnson City.
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. If you know of someone living in their car or camping out in a tent, make a point of helping them or bring them in out of the cold.
After all, it is what the Bible teaches.

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