Share the Warmth is a new warming center open to homeless people in Hillsdale County.

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.”