Blevins: High Rents Putting Families Out

Mike Toothman doesn’t know how many people will show up seeking a warm place to sleep during the Winter Freeze Shelter’s opening night Saturday.

But last winter, the shelter housed 107 different men and women in four months, said Toothman, a spokesman for Youth Services System, which runs the shelter at 87 15th St.

The shelter will open its doors at 10 p.m. Saturday and permit people upstairs at 10:30 p.m. It will reopen each night through March 15.

Last season, 88 men and 19 women used the shelter.

”We’re hearing from people already,” Toothman said, adding other year-round emergency shelters already are busy. ”The Salvation Army is quite full.”

Much like every year, volunteers help man the shelter and many churches, businesses and individuals donate food, money and other items such as clothing. To thank people, YSS holds a soup luncheon annually.

At the Wheeling Salvation Army, Maj. Dianna Blevins said her emergency shelter on 16th Street typically is full year-round, but the demand does increase during cold weather. To help accommodate people, extra cots are set up in the lobby.

”Constantly, one checks in and one checks out,” said Maj. John Blevins, Dianna Blevins’ husband. ”It amazes me – people travel from coast to coast and they find Salvation Army shelters along the line.”

Dianna Blevins noted many of the shelter’s residents are local people who have lost their homes to disasters such as fires.

Others, including families with children, have been evicted from their homes because of a sharp increase in rent.

”Rent is so expensive you have two families sharing a house. After two weeks, they get tired of each other and one of the families get put out,” Dianna Blevins said. ”We’ve also had more seniors than we’ve ever had. Their lease is due and the landlord raises the rent … and they don’t have anywhere else to go.”

She said the Salvation Army shelter needs donations of winter clothes, pajamas of all sizes and thermal underwear.

Food items such as cereal, bread and milk are needed, in addition to easy-to-pack items such as peanut butter and crackers and single servings of fruit.

Toothman said more volunteers to work the shelter are always welcome. To sign up, call YSS at 304-233-9628.