Centre Region churches offer homeless a warm place to sleep

Homelessness is always difficult, but in central Pennsylvania in December, with temperatures falling below freezing, it can be life-threatening.

Centre Region churches are working with community groups to try and extend a warm helping hand.

For the third year, Out of the Cold, a cooperative effort by several church congregations, is making sure that people who have no place to go find someplace to sleep as the temperature drops.

“It was organized in an effort to try and meet the needs of a growing homeless community in Centre County, and State College in particular,” said Joel Blunk, associate pastor at State College Presbyterian Church.

The program began after a man died of hypothermia in Centre County while trying to sleep through a frigid night in a tent. Churches and local people wanting to find a solution created a program modeled on others around the country. Churches take turns offering a space for people to spend the night. Volunteers, some from the churches, others just interested in helping, help meet the needs of their guests during the stay.

“Every guest who wants to register has to start with the Community Help Centre,” said Amanda Gentzel, an OOTC committee member. “We sign them up for that evening.”

Signing up just covers the basics, like name and some identifying information. Registration has to happen every day that a person wants to stay at a congregation’s shelter, even if that means calling 800-494-2500 or 237-5855 or stopping into the CHC office at 141 W. Beaver Ave., State College, on a daily basis.

“Every day, the people who call in vary, but right now, it’s a little higher than usual, about 12 to 14 a day. It’s usually under 10,” said Gentzel.

According to Calvary Baptist Church, one of the member congregations, State College alone had 16 people reported as homeless last month, sleeping in tents, cars or just the street.

Congregations host the program for two weeks at a time, starting in October and running through April. OOTC’s stock of cots, blankets and pillows rotates among the churches. The program also provides hygiene supplies. State College Assembly of God’s website says hot meals and packed lunches are supplied as well.

Volunteers participate in training to help them provide care and direct participants toward other services.

“Homelessness is a growing issue in our country,” said Blunk. “It’s difficult to find affordable housing in Centre County.”