Local agencies work together to help homeless as winter weather strains shelters

A network of churches and human resources agencies that strives to keep homeless people out of the cold almost couldn’t do that as the snow fell last week.

Organizers of the aptly named Out of the Cold program faced a tough decision, as a daytime snowstorm Feb. 13 made roads treacherous. Should they open and put volunteers and the homeless traveling to the shelter at risk, or close and deprive those in need on one of the nastiest days of the year?

It didn’t come to that, fortunately, thanks to the program’s close relationship to Housing Transitions Inc., which runs Centre House, the area’s homeless shelter. Housing Transitions helped Out of the Cold put the people it would normally serve in a downtown State College hotel for the night.

“One of the things we’ve talked about before is the community working together,” said Ron Quinn, executive director of Housing Transitions. “This is a situation that demonstrates that.”

Calvary Baptist Church counted 16 people as homeless in State College as of November. The congregation is one of a number of churches that hosts Out of the Cold, taking turns making their buildings temporary homeless shelters.

The area’s homeless can find emergency shelter there from October to April when Centre House is full, which Calvary Baptist officials say happens often during the cold winter months.

Centre House and the Out of the Cold program are among a number of local organizations or programs that work together to help the homeless. The list also includes Hearts for the Homeless, a new daytime shelter that opened this month on Fraser Street in State College.

“Together, Housing Transitions, Out of the Cold and Hearts for the Homeless are working to address the growing need for homelessness resources in the Centre Region,” Susanna Paul, development and community relations coordinator with Housing Transitions, has previously said. “It’s been really encouraging to see so many community volunteers commit to addressing this issue.”

That cooperation was on full display during the recent snow emergency.

Snow had been falling throughout the day, and Out of the Cold organizers were concerned that volunteers wouldn’t be able to safely get to the church hosting the event that night, and that homeless guests wouldn’t be able to get a taxi or bus at 9 p.m., when the program opens its doors, said Monica Ouellette, pastor at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Boalsburg.

Ouellette, who also serves as Out of the Cold executive committee co-chairwoman, said no one was left without a place to sleep.

Quinn said that Out of the Cold officials knew they could turn to Housing Transitions in such a pinch because the groups plan together for such emergencies.

“It was money well spent,” Quinn said of putting Out of the Cold’s clients up in a hotel.

Quinn said the Out of the Cold program helps Housing Transitions by providing shelter for the homeless on many cold winter nights.

“We were more than willing to share our resources,” Quinn said. “We are sort of helping each other.”