It was 50 degrees and raining as almost a dozen people started lining up outside the doors of Centenary United Methodist’s office space on Tuesday night. At 7 p.m., they were invited inside to enjoy warm beverages and to start checking in for the first night of overflow shelters.
The overflow shelters will remain open until March 31, providing warm meals and shelter for those without homes during the four coldest months of the year when the three permanent shelters are often full.
“Imagine it kind of like when a hurricane hits an area and they pop up temporary relief shelters. It’s the same sort of philosophy from a government perspective,” said Petey Crowder, the missions pastor at First Presbyterian Church. “The city’s involved. The United Way is involved. We’re basically operating temporary relief shelters.”
The overflow shelter system is coordinated by City With Dwellings, a small group of people dedicated to helping the homeless, said Lee Thullbery. The city, United Way, Anthony’s Plot and many churches all work together to provide warm meals, shelter and beds for as many as 75 to 100 people in need each night, Thullbery said.
Thullbery has volunteered with the overflow shelters since they first opened up four years ago. For the past nine and a half years, she has managed Finnegan’s Wake, the Irish pub on Trade Street. She quit her job, however, to pursue her interest in helping the homeless and to begin working with City With Dwellings, she said. This year, she is in charge of managing the central check-in point.
Anyone who wants to stay in the overflow shelters comes to Centenary United Methodist’s office space on 633 W. 4th St. at 7 p.m. They check in with Thullbery or one of her volunteers, and then they are bussed to either a permanent shelter with available beds or one of the four churches that serves as an overflow shelter. This year, St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, First Presbyterian and Augsberg Lutheran Chuch are functioning as overflow shelters, according to CityWithDwellings.org.
The city of Winston-Salem works with United Way of Forsyth County to provide funds for the overflow shelters, according to Andrea Kurtz, the director of housing strategies at United Way. The funds come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and they are intended to provide emergency shelter, which includes these winter overflow shelters, Kurtz said.
Because the overflow shelters try to house as many people as possible, they have a much lower barrier for entry than the permanent shelters according to Thullbery. At a permanent shelter, if people do not check in one night or if they cause a disruption, they lose their spot for the following night, Thullbery said. However, that’s not the case at the overflow shelters.
“You can really, really blow it tonight, and the worst case scenario is that we move you to another shelter,” Thullbery said. “But tomorrow’s another day.”
This is because the overflow shelters are dedicated to providing shelter for anyone who needs it.
“We know that during the winter, demand for shelter spaces increases,” Kurtz said. “We want to make sure that anyone who comes in during the winter has a place to stay.”
The overflow shelter system tries to maintain some sort of continuity of who goes where, creating a sense of community for the people in each overflow shelter, Crowder said. Community – not housing – is one of the main issues in helping the homeless, Crowder said.
According to the motto of Anthony’s Plot, “the opposite of homelessness is not housing but community.”