State College

Local organization brings county’s homeless ‘Out of the Cold’

Out of the Cold: Centre County assistant site manager Katie Nurmi opens the door on Saturday to the room where the men’s overnight cots are located at State College Presbyterian Church.
Out of the Cold: Centre County assistant site manager Katie Nurmi opens the door on Saturday to the room where the men’s overnight cots are located at State College Presbyterian Church. psheehan@centredaily.com

Since the end of October, 55 homeless residents have received overnight accommodation and nourishment from Out of the Cold: Centre County, and Kendra Gettig, co-chair of the organization, said that number will likely double by the end of the season.

“Our average nightly attendance has been between 15-18,” Gettig said. “When the program started it was much smaller and it has grown each year. It’s larger this year than it was last year, especially for this point in the season. We started with 10 to 12 guests this year, which is more than double what we typically start.”

The organization, which was established in February 2011, began with a conversation about established shelters that weren’t able to meet the needs of the area’s homeless population for a variety of reasons.

Shortly after those conversations began, Gettig recalled a Bellefonte man dying from hypothermia after sleeping overnight in a tent.

“That just confirmed the fact that additional shelter space was needed in Centre County,” Gettig said.

The organization primarily welcomes residents of Centre County but will also provide shelter for those in neighboring counties. There are 15 congregations participating, along with several other agencies, which operate on a rotating two-week schedule from Oct. 23 to May 6.

After guests register prior to each night of their stay, they are provided with a warm meal, a cot and a few blankets to keep warm. There is a loose 30-day limit for out-of-county residents, but Centre County residents are permitted to stay in the program until they find a more suitable living condition.

“We don’t even strictly enforce this,” Gettig said. “If they’re actively working toward housing or employment, then we overlook that. What we don’t want is out-of-county residents to come here and take up space for folks in our own community.”

Two-thirds of the current guests are from Centre County while the remaining one-third are out-of-county guests, Gettig said. The guests, no matter where they come from, receive help from the organization’s volunteers. There were 400 overall volunteers last year, Gettig said. As for overnight volunteers, it’s a roughly a 5 to 1 ratio for guests per volunteer each night.

“It’s not an easy volunteer ask,” Gettig said. “You don’t sleep terribly well. One volunteer has to be awake and they rotate to that, so you’re awake for just a couple of hours. With work the next day and stuff like that, we suspect that it would be difficult to find volunteers, but that hasn’t really been our experience.”

While falling short of volunteers has not been an issue, the organization welcomes as many donations as possible. Right now, the biggest need is bus tokens.

“Some of the participating congregations are not right in downtown State College, so people are required to either take a bus or a taxi to get there. Transportation is our biggest financial burden at this point,” Gettig said.

An updated wish list can be found on the organization’s website.

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