This winter, the homeless people of Hillsdale County now have a place to spend the night.
Share the Warmth is a night-only warming center that operates out of the House of Refuge Church located on E. Carleton Road. It’s designed to give people who don’t have anywhere to spend the night, a place to stay during the winter months. It’s a “night-only” warming center where guests can check in as early as 9 p.m. and checkout by 7:30 a.m. The center opened on Nov. 1 and will remain open seven days a week until March or mid-April.
“In the big cities you see the homeless people, here you don’t,” Director of the warming center Penny Myers said.
Homelessness isn’t often thought of as a problem in rural areas like Hillsdale County.
“Homelessness is not just a big city problem,” Mayor Adam Stockford said in an email. “We’ve seen an influx of homeless people in Hillsdale County for the past several years.”
Myers said that she believes the warming center will meet a need for the community. The first few nights the center was open, they only had one or two guests, but now in their second week since opening, the warming center has four to six people a night.
“We expect to have more guests as it starts getting colder out,” Myers said.
One of the first nights the center was open, Myers was sending her volunteers home because they didn’t have any guests. As they were leaving, a police officer stopped by and requested that they stay open even when they don’t have quests, so if during his night patrol he finds people sleeping in places they shouldn’t, he can refer them to the warming center.
“It made us rethink the situation,” Myers said. “Now, we’ll be open every night as long as we have volunteers.”
The warming center has two shifts per night, each of which needs two volunteers. As of now the center has 25 volunteers, but Myers said they definitely need more.
Mary Greco, freshman at Hillsdale College, said she started volunteering at the warming center when she felt like she should be more involved in the community.
“I feel very grateful for meeting the guests who stayed that night,” Greco said. “I plan on going back and fostering the relationships I made with them.”
The Chief of Police for the City of Hillsdale Scott Hephner said in an email that the warming center fills a primary gap from the perspective of the police.
“It gives a location for someone to spend the night other than sneaking into an apartment building laundry room, mechanical room, or other non-public areas,” Hephner said.
Hephner also noted that officers from the Hillsdale Police Department tell those who may be in need about the warming center, and have even made transports to the center upon request.
“This warming center is a compassionate addition to our city,” Stockford said. “Our community is full of kind-hearted people that have identified where we were falling short and responded accordingly.”
Myers said the other night the police brought in a man they found sleeping in the utility room of an apartment building. They told him that he could spend the night in jail or go to the warming center. Myers said they brought him in and he went straight to bed.
“He’s been here every night since,” Myers said. “He’s been nothing but polite and friendly.”
Myers also shared a story of a woman who has been coming to the center for the last few nights.
When she first started coming, Myers said she was very shy and would go straight to bed, but now she’s very talkative and hangs out and drinks coffee with the volunteers.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Myers said.
Stockford noted that he too believes the warming center fills a need for the community.
“Now we’ve got to get the word out that there are options available for the needy and the downtrodden amongst us,” Stockford said. “No one should be cold this winter in the city of Hillsdale.”
On top of providing guests with snacks and a place to spend the night, Myers also works to give guests Dial-A-Ride tickets and gift cards to local food places or coffee shops. Myers said the warming center is open to support from the community and they are always in need of volunteers and donations of gift cards, Dial-A-Ride tickets, or whatever people are able to give.
Myers and her husband come in to the center every night to visit with the guests and the volunteers, and she said they’re taking it one step at a time, but they’re hopeful that the warming center will meet a need in the community.
“It’s relationship building and we all have a story,” Myers said. “We can’t fix all of their problems, but we can give them a place to stay.”