Update: Ferris Hill Baptist Church in Milton will be open Wednesday night.
Local organizations are preparing for the first cold night of the 2020 winter season by opening up shelters for the homeless or heatless today and Tuesday night.
But in a pandemic, there are more precautions for staff and volunteers.
“It will be different,” said Bonnie Barlow, CEO of Bridgeway Center in Fort Walton Beach. “It won’t be perfect, but what we learn tonight we’ll apply tomorrow.”
Bridgeway manages the One Hopeful Place shelter which is the designated cold-night shelter for the Fort Walton Beach area. Staff and volunteers are planning for 35 to 45 individuals who will be housed in the Phase II building, which was completed in October.
There will be two bus stops for individuals — one at First United Methodist Church at 103 First St., and a second at Bridgeway Center's West Campus at 333 Lewis St. Pick-ups will stop at 6 p.m., but Fort Walton Beach Police and Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office have both offered to provide rides.
The transport bus will be at 50% capacity and the bus will be sanitized after each trip, said Barlow.
“We’re taking lots and lots of extra precautions,” she added.
As shelter guests arrive to One Hopeful Place, they will be screened for COVID by Bridgeway Health Clinic staff and some may be given rapid COVID tests. For anyone who tests positive, the Homelessness and Housing Agency will help find other accommodations.
“After screenings, they’ll be given bunk assignments and a brief orientation on what to expect — keep your masks on, don’t reuse paper products,” explained Barlow.
Masks are also required at the Santa Rosa County cold-night shelter at Ferris Hill Baptist Church.
The cold night guests will be kept separate from the 16 transitional residents who live at One Hopeful Place, who have stayed in their own pod during the pandemic.
One tradition that will continue are the meals provided from a handful of faith-based organizations.
Barlow said the greatest need for the cold-night program are volunteers to stay overnight alongside a Bridgeway staff member. Ensley First Baptist Church in Pensacola is also in need of volunteers.
Dennis Krebs, overnight volunteer coordinator, said this year has been particularly hard to staff because of COVID. Most volunteers are senior citizens and have been hesitant to sign up.
"The shifts last from 8:30 p.m. to 8 the next morning and we have volunteers in blocks of three or four-hour shifts," said Krebs. "I'll be covering three shifts tonight myself. We're hurting for volunteers and we're hoping to tap into younger folks."
Krebs stays with all first-time volunteers and also offers a comprehensive training manual so no questions are left unanswered. Anyone interested can contact Krebs at 855-3357.
It’s not an easy shift, Barlow admits. And any volunteer should have a “real passion” for helping others.
“You just don’t know what to expect, but the monitors are there to make sure everyone is safe,” said Barlow.
For updates on the cold-weather shelter, follow One Hopeful Place on Facebook.
Ferris Hill Baptist Church is collecting brand-new socks and undergarments for adults and children. You can contact them at 623-5600.
The following cold-night shelters will be open:
(Monday evening only)
The DeFuniak Springs Community Center
361 N. 10th St., DeFuniak Springs
The shelter will open beginning at 5:30 p.m. and will close at 7:00 a.m. the following morning.
Monday and Tuesday evening
One Hopeful Place
1564 Percy L. Coleman Road, Fort Walton Beach
Pickups begin at 3 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church on First Street in Fort Walton Beach. A second pickup location will be at Bridgeway Center's West Campus 333 Lewis St. Masks are required. Dinner and breakfast provided.
Santa Rosa County:
Monday and Tuesday evening
Ferris Hill Baptist Church, 6848 Chaffin St. in Milton. Shelter open from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. No one will be admitted after 8:30 p.m. unless brought in by law enforcement. The shelter closes at 7 a.m. each morning. Masks are required. Forehead temperature checks will be taken at registration.
Ensley First Baptist Church, 50 W. Johnson Ave. is open through March when temperature drops below 40 degrees. Check in from 6 to 8:30 p.m. For women and children only. Contact: 476-2221.
Waterfront Rescue Mission, 80 W Herman St. is open to men only. Check in from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Contact: 478-4027.