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With Cold Temperatures and a Growing Homeless Population, Warming Shelters Numbers Continue to Rise

Shane Franklin / KSMU
Salvation Army at Chestnut and Kansas is helping people stay warm. Credit- Shane Franklin

A round of snow has again blanketed parks of the Ozarks. And with colder temperatures to follow, KSMU’s Shane Franklin has the latest on how conditions are impacting the area’s most vulnerable citizens.

“Amid the latest winter storm to the hit the Ozarks, I’m standing outside the. Springfield Salvation Army on the corner of Kansas and Chestnut Expressway, where if the temperature gets cold enough the warming facility opens its doors for those in need. Let’s go ahead and step inside,” said Franklin.

I had just missed the last group to leave the shelter for the day, but was able to speak with Michelle Rutayuga. She manages the warming shelter at the Salvation Army, which opens their doors on nights that the wind chill drops below 14 degrees.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to see people protected. That’s what we’re doing were. We’re protecting people from the elements. No matter why they’re homeless, it all boils down to this is a human being, and this is a group of people who should not be left alone in the cold,” says Rutayuga.

Monday night, she says, the shelter housed 74 people who would have otherwise slept outside in the cold. Many of these people were shuttled by the Salvation Army to Bill’s Place or the Veterans Coming Home Center, after being served a warm breakfast and hot coffee.

Rutayuga says the community has been exceptional in meeting this season’s need by providing financial support, volunteers, and donation in kind.  But this season the need is even greater, she says.

Already this year the shelter has been open for 40 nights and served 415 different community members. That compares to being open only 24 nights last year, with just 231 different individuals served.

Rutayuga says it’s likely the homeless population is growing in Springfield. When combined with the severe weather the Ozarks has been experiencing this winter season, it makes for an intense demand for community resources like the Salvation Army’s warming shelter.

She’s thankful for the community’s help and hopeful that they will continue to come together, but not just to provide a warm meal and safe place to sleep, to end homelessness altogether.

It won’t be easy, she says.

“Until we get to the place where we are all ready to push together and put forth that big earnest effort with the same intensity to end homelessness, until we all get to that place at least we’re saving  people,” says Rutayuga.

The Salvation Army says their Extreme Emergency Cold Weather Shelter will remain open through at least overnight Thursday, but could likely remain open through the weekend. You can learn more about the service or how to help by calling 417-862-5509.

For KSMU News, I’m Shane Franklin.