Note: This story has been updated to add information and correct an error. See correction at bottom.
WOOSTER – Despite the falling temperatures, the threat of snow and ongoing wave of COVID-19, area residents have come out in force to aid the city's unsheltered population, according to the Wooster Homelessness Task Force and area social service agencies.
The pandemic kept many at home last year leaving a skeleton crew to man the Salvation Army's Severe Weather Shelter, which opens when temperatures drop below 21 degrees or the wind chill makes it feel like 20 or less.
Now, there are nearly 50 fully trained daytime volunteers at the 14-cot Severe Weather Shelter, according to Wyn Jones of the task force, who said limited funds continue to restrict the shelter's use while other programs lack the physical space that works best for the city's homeless.
"As of right now we have enough funds to open (the shelter) 70 nights right now, but if we had more funds, we could possibly open more," said Krista Kidney of OneEighty and chair of the Wayne County Housing Coalition.
Kidney explained that current funding levels, which come from community donations, should be sufficient to open the shelter as much as it's needed this winter.
Beyond funds, Jones, a volunteer at the shelter and chair of the Affordable Housing Committee of the task force, believes the task force needs a central location where the city's and county's various services for unsheltered individuals are available.
Kidney said The Living Room at the Salvation Army "already serves as a central location to access services for our homeless population."
She said the facility provides services such as case management, shower and laundry facilities, a meal and help from staff from other area social service organizations.
The Wayne County Housing Coalition is comprised of nearly 30 of these community organizations.
"Solving these issues is complex and multifaceted," said Kidney "We have made great progress with the generosity of donors and service providers."
Despite many volunteers, aid is limited by funding
The last days of November and the first week of December turned frigid. Nighttime temperatures swung between the low 20s and upper 30s.
Despite temperatures below freezing, the Salvation Army's Severe Weather Shelter was not open, in part due to funding, Jones said.
Christmas in January: Old Christmas is a time for reflecting, visiting family among Ohio's Amish
"(The shelter) is open for one or two nights and is not open for one or two nights because we need to stretch the funds," Jones said.
Contractors are paid to work the Severe Weather Shelter at night, she said, and what the shelter really needs is a permanent staff, which it can't afford.
"Those contractors have day jobs, and we have volunteers working from 6 to 10 in the evening," Jones said.
Centralized space for homeless services
The Rev. Kevan Franklin's Trinity United Church of Christ in downtown Wooster is a safe place for the city's homeless population. It is also a place for them to eat a daily breakfast.
While these breakfasts provide a filling meal, Franklin also uses the time and space to bring city and county services to the population that needs it most.
Agencies attend the breakfast, talk to people and help them, Jones said.
"We have all of these Band-Aids and pieces to a puzzle, but there's one piece missing," she said. "I think Kevan and Trinity Church is trying to be that piece."
That missing piece is a permanent location where services are always made available.
"We need people to help them fill out paperwork," she said. "The task force also started a mentoring group and the Viola Startzman Clinic provides medical care."
These services are spread throughout the city, however, making it difficult for the homeless to take full advantage of the offerings, according to Jones.
The church also is a place for the unsheltered to get the COVID-19, flu and hepatitis vaccines when each is made available, Franklin said, and the Viola Startzman Clinic can provide routine medical checkups.
One location where each of these services is available, including medical, would greatly benefit Wooster's homeless population, Jones said.
Going forward, members of the Wooster Homelessness Task Force said they aim to create such a facility, though there are no concrete plans as of yet.
February public event
An informational event hosted by the Wooster Homelessness Task Force and the League of Women Voters will discuss the state of homelessness and housing in the city at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 10 at First Presbyterian Church. Face masks are strongly recommended.
Panel speakers will include Kidney, Franklin and Stan Popp of the Wayne Metropolitan Housing Authority. They will accept questions and comments from the public.
"I think there are a lot of misconceptions about homelessness and affordable housing," said Jones. "We want to help educate the community about what is being done."
Anyone who wishes to submit a question can do so at this link: https://forms.gle/hEHUGms5UftZSZoM9. Feb. 4 is the last day to submit questions.
Assistance for the homeless in Wayne County
Wooster Salvation Army: 330-264-4704 (Emergency Shelter and Homeless Day Center).
OneEighty: 330-264-8498 (Housing Case Management Services, Emergency Rental Assistance, Emergency Shelter and Homeless Outreach).
Anazao Community Partners: 330-439-9567 (24-hour hotline for Housing and Behavioral Health Liaison Service).
Reach Bryce by email at email@example.com
On Twitter: @Bryce_Buyakie
Correction: Stan Popp, of the Wayne Metropolitan Housing Authority, is part of a panel that will address questions from the public next month on the state of homelessness and housing in Wooster. His last name was misspelled when this story first published Jan. 5.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Record: Enough in coffers to house Wayne homeless 70 frigid nights