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Area homeless shelters brace for cold weather

By Meredith Shamburger
Dec. 5, 2017 at 11:52 p.m.

Above, below: Men gather Tuesday in the lobby at the Hiway 80 Rescue Mission in Longview as  outside temperatures drop. The men's shelter was at capacity Tuesday, Executive Director Eric Burger said.

The return of colder weather to East Texas means area homeless shelters are preparing for a potential influx in clients — and the different needs that entails.

Hiway 80 Rescue Mission in Longview already is seeing more people than usual, days before the coldest of the temperatures are expected to arrive.

"I believe we're already at overflow at our men's shelter, even before the cold had hit," Executive Director Eric Burger said, "and I think we're close to overflow at our women and family shelter. But we'll make sure that we make room for people."

The National Weather Service said Tuesday afternoon that a cold front already was well through the area.

Overnight lows are expected to be in the 30s, with Thursday night's temperatures dropping to the 20s because of an influx of air coming from Canada.

East Texas will see a continuation of seasonally cool temperatures and mostly clear skies through the weekend and into next week, the weather service said.

At Hiway 80, overflow procedures include putting people on floor mats.

And if the weather gets bad enough, the agency institutes "life-threatening nights," in which normal rules that disallow some people from the shelter are suspended.

That includes clients who have not been following Hiway 80's programs or people who are intoxicated.

In those cases, Hiway 80 will bring in extra staff members and let people stay in a separate, monitored area.

"We actually probably do more life-threatening nights because of heat advisories," Burger said. "But, basically, they'll look at the weather each night, and if it's determined that it's either going to drop, or we've got pour-down rain, or we've got tornadoes, any of those things can trigger what we call our life-threatening policies."

Longview's Salvation Army also suspends some of its rules in extreme weather.

"We have clients who have probably been banned for some reason or another, but if it gets down to under freezing, then we let them in," Shelter Manager Keith Gibson said. "We bend the rules for that."

However, Gibson said his shelter doesn't often see a large inflow of people when it gets really cold.

But he said the shelter always is prepared.

"So basically, if cold weather is coming, we're already prepared for it, and we're just waiting for the people to come in, if they do come in," Gibson said. "And sometimes they either do, or they don't. Most of them like to stay out, because they've got other things they want to do."

When it comes to winter weather, Burger said Hiway 80 is always in need of coats, hats and gloves for its clients.

Supplies aren't always adequate once freezing weather hits, though.

"They don't necessarily come in at the same time everybody needs them," he said.

Gibson said the Salvation Army was taken care of in terms of blankets, thanks to a donation from area police agencies.

The agency hands them out to people, especially those who choose to sleep outside. But the Salvation Army does need personal hygiene kits, Gibson said.

"That's one of the greatest needs we need in the shelters right now," he said.

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