Packed shelters prepare for cold snap

Posted December 4, 2009 9:03 p.m. EST
Updated December 4, 2009 11:22 p.m. EST

— When the temperature dips below the freezing mark Saturday night, area homeless shelters will put out the white flags to urge more people indoors.

Wake County Human Services' "White Flag" program goes into effect any time the temperature is projected to be 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., or when there is heavy or steady precipitation and the temperature is projected to be below 38 degrees.

When the flags are out, shelters take all comers. It means some crowded conditions for those trying to keep warm.

The Salvation Army of Wake County has been at capacity for months. Eighty families are on the waiting list. Paige Bagwell said that's the longest the list has ever been.

"It is a perfect storm," she said. "There's just this tornado of events that can really cause some havoc on people's lives.

"These people that have lost jobs or their hours have been cut, they've just lost that little bit of pay that helps put that food on the table or helps pay their rent and they've lost housing," she said.

That's what drove Luretta Payne to seek shelter at the Salvation Army. She came to the shelter in September after an arm injury forced her to quit her custodian job in June.

Since then, it feels like home, she said. "It's good that I have a roof over my head," she said. "I'm being fed well."

When cold weather moves in, the White Flag demands that the shelter add to an already full roster. With or without beds, shelters open their doors to those in need.

"They can have cots and blankets and couches and things like that," Bagwell said.

Even the simplest accommodations, Payne said, are all it takes to feel warm when the weather turns cold.

"For those that are out there, it's hard. It's hard, and I see it every day," she said.

Wake County officials estimated that more than 1,000 individuals are homeless each night, and thousands more are doubled-up with other families and at risk of homelessness.

Men seeking shelter should go to the South Wilmington Street Center, 1420 S. Wilmington St., for referral. Women without children should go to the Helen Wright Center for Women, 401 W. Cabarrus St., or The Healing Place of Wake County, 1251 Goode Drive. Women with or without children should go to the Salvation Army, 215 S. Person St., or the Raleigh Rescue Mission, 314 E. Hargett St.

View White Flag shelters in a larger map