Cold Weather Shelters across the region will be opening their doors through the weekend as temperatures are predicted to dip below 40 degrees.
In Okaloosa County, the cold weather shelters are part of the Cold Night Program and operated by a group of local churches.
Mary Gourlie is the Care Group Coordinator at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Ft. Walton Beach, which is participating for the first time this season. Gourlie says she first proposed the idea of getting involved while teaching Sunday school at the church, " When I was talking to my adult class one Sunday morning and I said, why don’t we become part of this program? And I have twelve members in my class and they all said ok. So then we just started meeting and decide how we would do it, and what we would do. There is such a need."
For their supplies, Gourlie says they rely mostly on donations from church members and community groups. And, staying overnight is encouraged but, is optional, "The United Way will deliver mats. And then we have blankets. In fact they have also donated 60 blankets to us already. So then after dinner then we would set up the cots and the blankets they could go to sleep. And then we have rules that you do have to be asleep by ten and you cannot leave after ten or you can’t come back in."
On cold weather nights, there will be at least one shelter open in the north and south end of Okaloosa. Lifepoint Church on South Ferdon Blvd. in Crestview is another church that participates in the program. Kathy Barrow is Secretary for Lifepoint and says they’ve served as a shelter since 2013. Barrow says their facility has expanded and they are happy to accommodate anyone in need, "We have restrooms and showers. We provide supper that night, usually soup, sandwiches, something warm. And then breakfast the next morning."
Barrow says she’s seen a variety of people come through the doors over the years, "We’ll see people anywhere from what we would consider a homeless situation to travelers to moms that separated or find themselves without a home for the night. I’ve noticed that we do have homeless areas throughout the different corners of the town, which of course we never had before a few years ago. And a lot of people sleeping in their cars and the cars are just not warm enough."
Shelters are open from 6 pm to 8 am each night and separate sleeping areas are provided for woman and families. No ID is required to stay overnight but the church does ask that those who do stay sign in. And, alcohol and pets are not allowed. However, PAWS will kennel animals for the homeless if they have space.
The drill is much the same at Ferris Hill Baptist Church in Milton, which is the primary cold weather shelter provider in Santa Rosa County. Ferris Hill Pastor Brian Nall says their doors open from 6:30 to 8:30pm and close at 7am, " Everything’s gone very smoothly. Our volunteers have been faithful. The resources from the community (other churches) has been just overwhelming. So, we’re continuing to be well-stocked and with just the volunteers and guests that have continually been coming through, we’ve been able to minister to anybody that comes through, whether homeless or heatless."
In addition to hot meals, Ferris Hill provides movies and games to those spending cold nights at the church. But, Rev. Nall says the shelter program is just one part of their larger ‘benevolence ministry, " We give out, on a weekly basis, we give out food and clothing, that’s every Tuesday from 9-noon. We try to help people if the need it with GED training, resume development, just whatever we can do to kind of come along side people, so our cold weather shelter is just one component of our larger outreach ministry into the local community."
Rev. Nall says the volunteers are happy to be of service in any way they can from providing some encouraging words to providing a bit of breathing room if need be, " Whether you need someone just to talk to when you come or if you just need your space. We’ll be happy to set up whatever environment’s helpful for you. So, you can get some shut eye, some rest, a warm meal, and then get back at it the next day."
Cold Weather Shelters will be open each night through Sunday. For a list of area shelters and the days they’re open, go to our website wuwf.org.
Okaloosa Cold Weather Shelters:
First Presbyterian Church, 492 Ferdon Blvd. N; Corner of Hwy 85 & 90 / (850) 682-2835
Ft. Walton Beach-
St. Simon’s on the Sound Episcopal Church, 28 Miracle Strip Parkway (Hwy 98) / (850) 244-8448
First United Methodist, 599 8th Ave
Ft. Walton Beach-
Chester Pruitt Recreation Center location, 15 Carson Dr. SE. (Sponsored by Seventh-Day-Adventist) (850) 833-9582 or Gregg Chapel, 34 Carson Dr. SE. (850) 243-5925
Lifepoint Church, 400 South Ferdon Blvd. (850) 682-3518
Ft. Walton Beach-
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 363 Miracle Strip Parkway, ( Hwy 98 across from IHOP)
Santa Rosa Cold Weather Shelter:
Ferris Hill Baptist Church 6848 Chaffin Street, Milton, (850) 623-3500