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Homeless provided hotel rooms to escape bitter cold

Jerrie Whiteley
Herald Democrat
A homeless camp can be seen in Denison during the Point in Time survey in 2017.

Power outages have left many feeling raw and ready for the warm weather to return. But most of those folks experienced that deprivation in the safety of their own homes where the chilling wind, at least, was kept at bay by sturdy walls.

The homeless population in North Texas is generally not that lucky. Winter weather bites hardest at these folks who don't have walls to protect them from the winds or the precipitation. 

Several area agencies who routinely work with the homeless started planning back on Feb. 8 to get that very vulnerable population out of the cold. 

Volunteers unpack things at the new location for Grand Central Station in 2020.

Camille Snider with Taking it To the Streets said more than 40 of the area's homeless have been provided hotel rooms during the winter storm that National Weather Service Meteorologist Sarah Barnes said dropped between one and 3.5 inches of wintery precipitation on the area from Saturday through Wednesday.

Snider said her organization is out of money for rooms at this point but she is thankful about the ability to be able to chip in and help people get out of the cold. 

Grand Central Station extend its normal requirements for providing hotel rooms to help people, but it was all due to the willingness of area agencies and hotel operators working together that allowed it to happen.

Snider said it will probably end up costing around $10,000 when it is all said and done. While it was money that none of the agencies had to play with it, but they felt it had to be done.

Luckily, the winter weather is headed out of the area soon.

The precipitation is expected to be over but the nights will remain shockingly cold for this area with lows in the teens Wednesday through Friday. Highs during the day will slowly edge above freezing by Friday and then rebound into the 40s and 50s by the end of the weekend and early next week.

By the middle of next week, the area will see highs in the 60s with lows in the 40s.

Getting there, though is still going to be hard on those who don't have stable shelter so those hotel stays for the homeless have been extended for now depending upon when the people checked in, Snider said.

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station has had to remain closed during the storm, but GCS Dining Car Executive Director Karen Bray said they had not made a decision early Wednesday about Thursday operations. She hopes they will be able to be open again by Friday.

Snider said hope and prayers have gone a long way toward helping those who help make a difference in this winter weather disaster.

Take for instance, a woman in her 50s who routinely does not have a physical dwelling to call home was not seen for days by homeless shelter advocates prior to the storms. Snider and others started looking for the woman when the weather forecast first turned dire. Snider said she was no where to be found but was found Tuesday by a police officer.

"She was rolled up in two sleeping bags and a tarp like a taquito," Snider said. "I don't know how she is alive. I just don't know how she survived."

The woman, who Snider said lives with mental illness, was offered a room but wouldn't take it. Snider said the woman said she has been raped twice and was afraid she might get put in a room with a man. And, Snider said the woman had friends who are also homeless that she wanted to check on and take care of during this harsh weather. Even when the woman was told those friends had received rooms, the woman still wouldn't go.

So, the advocates had to leave her out there with a prayer that God would watch out for her.

"Her faith is strong," Snider said.

But so is Snider's who said she believes in the people she helps but also in the people who help her. She credited the Resale Barn in Pottsboro, Master Key in Sherman and soup kitchens with pitching in and providing the help that was needed to get people in out of the cold.

The Resale barn keeps Snider supplied with tents, tarps, sleeping bags and other things that make being out in the elements a little more comfortable during typical North Texas winter. Of course, this past week has been anything but typical.

Snider said Taking it to the Streets had to dip into its operational funds to make those motel rooms materialize even with the help from the hotels and they really need people to help replenish those funds to be able to keep providing help to the area's homeless population.

Marian Wilder serves lunch at the Grand Central Station Soup Kitchen.