Jun. 23—Responding to the recent heat wave, Hands Across Decatur is operating a cooling center that provides lunches, shower facilities, clothes, beverages and — most importantly — air conditioning to anyone who needs a cool place to spend the days.
Sue Terrell, founder and director of the nonprofit, said everyone is welcome to come to the cooling center at 1027 Fifth Ave. S.E. High temperatures in north Alabama on Wednesday ranged from a record-tying 102 in Muscle Shoals to 99 in Huntsville and 97 in Decatur.
"We don't care if they're homeless. We don't care what county they're from. We don't care if they have an ID," Terrell said. "We don't care what state they're from, because if you're hot, you're hot."
Terrell said some people can't afford to pay their utility bill to keep their air conditioning unit running.
"We're not a shelter, so as of right now they can't stay overnight, but they can be here all day," she said.
The Hands Across Decatur (HAD) cooling center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. This is the second summer HAD has provided a cooling center.
Terrell said Wednesday about half the people in the center were homeless.
"Half I know have houses that either don't have air conditioning or they're in a large house that a bunch of them live in with a small window air conditioner," Terrell said.
Terrell said last week there were about 55 people coming and going each day.
A hot lunch is served Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Snacks are given out every day at any time and a sack lunch is given seven days a week as people leave.
The center offers other amenities. On Wednesdays, a Bible study is held at the center by a local preacher. Clothes are also provided for anyone in need.
There is a library available and sometime in July there will be a computer center available at the location. Soon the center will start offering General Education Diploma classes, Terrell said.
Shower and laundry facilities opened at the center around May.
David Haller is transitioning out of homelessness and has been volunteering at HAD for about 10 years. One of his duties is supervising the shower facilities. Haller said about six or seven people shower there every day, but he believes that number will increase once more people learn about the facilities.
Brad Johnson is also transitioning out of homelessness and has volunteered with HAD for four years. He manages the laundry facilities.
"We're really just starting for people to want to get their clothes washed. I still do all the towels and stuff for the showers but as far as people wanting their laundry done, I usually do one or two (loads) a day," Johnson said.
Johnson also helps with maintenance at the center, keeps the center open when Terrell is not there, and prepares lunch. "A lot of times, this is the only time people eat," he said.
Johnson helps at the center while it is open. In the evenings he works side jobs such as cutting lawns or hay.
The cooling center helps the community, Johnson said, because "right now with the temperatures so high, nobody should be out here like this. ... We're very fortunate to have this facility."
Haller also helps distribute clothes and helps with maintenance at the center. He said he has worked at a downtown restaurant for two years cooking, washing dishes, cutting meat and doing anything else that is needed.
Haller said if the cooling center was not open, people would have nowhere to go to get out of the heat. "A lot of people have the misconception that the cold is the most evil to homeless. It's not, it's the heat. ... I would rather have it cold then as hot as this."
Most businesses, Haller said, will let someone stay inside to get cool for about 30 minutes before they ask the person to leave.
Terrell said the cooling center is essential to the community. "If there's not a regular place to go, then everybody's scrambling around."
"It's important to care for (the homeless) 24/7, 365 (days a year). Not just at Christmas, Thanksgiving, not just if the weather's hot or cold. They need help, not just our homeless people, but people need help all the time," she said.
Donations most needed are water flavoring packets, Gatorade and fruit. Monetary donations are also needed. To donate to the nonprofit or volunteer, call or text Terrell at 256-616-8210, visit Hands Across Decatur on Facebook, or visit www.handsacrossdecatur.org.
—email@example.com or 256-340-2460.