With cold, winter weather firmly setting in, Windham No Freeze Hospitality Center Inc. organizers say they are running low on supplies and are seeing a much higher demand for shelter this year.
“Well, our season has been overwhelming so far,” said Director Leigh Duffy. “We even had to open a couple of days early, thanks to that snowstorm in October.”
Windham Mayor Ernie Eldridge said he isn’t surprised about the rise in demand. “The economy isn’t good,” he said.
The nonprofit group, now in its eighth year, provides a space during the cold months where homeless people can get out of the cold, sleep in safety and take a shower.
Since its opening for this season in November, the center has been full, Duffy said.
Last year, 150 people sought shelter at the center, and Duffy predicts that number will be exceeded soon.
“We’ve already seen 105 different people this season,” Duffy said and added that supplies are low because of the center is already serving so many people.
This year, Duffy also has seen an increase in the number of people under 25 coming to the shelter, another sign of a tough economy. (The shelter only takes people 18 and older.)
“They all have similar stories,” Duffy said. “They either can’t afford rent or are in a precarious living situation.”
The usual core group is age 40 to 65, Duffy said.
Located at 1110 Main St. (next to Schiller’s), the center is in need of supplies such as paper towels, toilet paper, razors, shaving cream, decaffeinated coffee, cleaning supplies, warm hats, socks and gloves/mittens.
Those who would like to help can bring their donated items during office hours, from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, or you can call ahead to come by at a different time or meet at a different location.
Although the shelter currently has 65 workers, it still needs more volunteers, to give the regular workers a break and to fill in when someone is out sick, Duffy said.
The shelter is usually closed during the day, but last year Duffy tried to let people sleep in if they were sick in order to reduce the spread of illnesses – but this year she doesn’t have the funding to do that, she said.
“We have to have people on site when we do that,” said Duffy. “I was working 16-hour days then, but we can always use more volunteers.”
The shelter gets almost all of its money directly from donations from the community.
Duffy said she has never had to turn anyone away and never will. “If someone has to sleep on the floor they can,” she said. Duffy and her staff have even taken visitors into their homes for the night, she said.
With more than two months of winter still left, the shelter is going to need as much help as it can get, Duffy said.
Eldridge said he understands that it isn’t easy to get donations for the shelter. “It’s not as much that they don’t care as they don’t have it to give,” he said.
“The jobs just aren’t there today,” said Eldridge. “When I was a kid there were plenty of jobs… Those jobs aren’t there anymore, not in our section of the world.”
Later this month, the shelter will host Bruce John’s “Hollywood Nights,” it’s fifth annual fundraiser. Tickets to the Jan. 21 event, at the Willimantic Elks Club, are $20 and all proceeds benefit the Windham Region No Freeze Project.
“The event will help us to cover the rent for the year,” Duffy said.
For more information about volunteering or making a donation, call the center at (860) 450-1346 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org Donations can be mailed to The Windham No Freeze Project, P.O. Box 46, Willimantic 06226.
Posted Jan. 18, 2012 as edited by HTNP.com Editor Brenda Sullivan
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