by Max Marbut
With temperatures predicted to drop into the mid-20s for the next several days, social service providers who offer what’s called in the business “cold night shelter” are bracing for what may turn out to be record levels of need. Weather like Jacksonville is about to experience brings many homeless people who would not usually seek overnight shelter into social service organizations and those people are in need of the most basic items.
“The biggest need we see is for stocking caps and sweat socks,” said Paul Stosi, director of Social Services at the Salvation Army. “It’s always great when people can donate blankets, but thankfully we’re in pretty good shape for blankets right now.”
The Salvation Army primarily serves homeless men and Stosi said with the weather as cold as it will be at night through the weekend, “We know we will be way above capacity so we’ll be opening up the gymnasium where we can house about 100 more men than usual.”
Anyone can be sheltered at the Sulzbacher Center, said Colleen Farris, director of public relations. There are 338 beds at the center and there has been a waiting list for those beds since December, including 24 families with children.
“We are designated as a cold night shelter for women and families. When we have an increase in need like we are anticipating this week we need more toiletries like shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste. We can also use more towels, washcloths and sheets for twin beds – and they don’t have to be brand-new, we’re happy to have gently-used,” she added.
Farris said Sulzbacher Center’s cold night shelter service differs from business as usual in that, “Other than when it’s this cold, people who get a bed here don’t just get a bed for the night, it’s a managed program.”
The City Rescue Mission’s New Life Inn is also expecting an influx of clients this week on top of the 15 percent increase in need since September, said Ginny Sielert, director of Foundation and Corporate Relations. Usually, the facility serves a maximum of 144 people per night, but when cold weather arrives the capacity can be increased to 200 people.
“We need sheets, blankets, sweaters, underwear and shoes – basically any kind of cold-weather gear. And socks are so critical. Homeless people have to keep their feet in good shape because they walk so much.
“We also need food like powdered milk and juice and nonperishable items like canned goods and fruit. And we can always use monetary donations,” she said.
Donations to the Salvation Army may be made at 328 N. Ocean St.; to the Sulzbacher Center at 611 E. Adams St.; and to the City Rescue Mission’s New Life Inn at 234 W. State St.