Archive for Sunday, November 30, 2003

Winter weather strains homeless, agencies

November 30, 2003


In the 20 years he has spent on the streets of Lawrence, Joe Winauski has developed a hatred for winter.

"Terrible. Every winter is terrible," Winauski said Friday, over lunch at the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen.

"It's scary," he said. "It doesn't take too long to become ill, or frostbit from sleeping under a bridge or something."

His friend, Michael Thorne, 61, agrees. He spent a year on the streets before finding a home a month ago. He remembers last winter as the worst experience of his life.

"It's miserable," Thorne said. "Especially when you get to be 60, 61 years old."

Advocates for the homeless in Lawrence say it's never easy to live outside, but that winter months are the worst of all. And winter strains the agencies that serve the homeless.

"It is bringing a lot more people inside, and increasing the utilities drastically," said Tami Clark, director of the Community Drop-In Center, 214 W. 10th St. "It's making it real tough to stay on budget with utilities; some days it may have to be cold."

Because of weather concerns, a new afternoon shelter had been scheduled to open Monday at a Lawrence church. Organizers postponed that plan Friday after the church's furnace broke -- and because insurance questions still were unresolved.

Steve Ozark, coordinator of the Warm Hands open shelter, said he didn't know when an afternoon location would be found. The shelter would have opened between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.

"There's nowhere else to go during those hours. There's no other shelter or structured place," Ozark said. "Frankly, that's a big problem for downtown. If you don't have friends to go to on the coldest days, you're going to wind up at the library."

Winauski said finding a warm spot on a cold afternoon, or on the weekends, was tricky.

"You just run in and out of buildings as fast as you can, try to stay out of trouble with the law," he said. "Nobody wants to go to jail to stay warm."

Becky Owens, coordinator of the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen, says some guests are now "always cold. It's a question of where you can get coats, where you can get blankets."

Clark said the drop-in center was running low on gloves, hats and socks to distribute.

"They're dressed as warm as they can find," she said last week. "I had someone come in with a sweater today, looking for a coat. We gave her one of the few that we've got, but we're running out."

Rich Forney, administrator of the Salvation Army in Lawrence, said Friday he had just obtained five boxes of blankets. That supply will be gone in 10 days, he said.

¢ Community Drop-In Center, 832-8864.¢ Warm Hands open shelter, 841-5335.¢ Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen, 331-3663.¢ Salvation Army, 843-4188.

"With the heat, you can always get something to shade or fan yourself," Forney said. "With the cold, you can't always get warm."

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