WESTERLY — Cold snaps tend to keep people indoors, but when there is no indoors because you can’t afford a home, winter weather can pose a challenge.
“We are getting many, many more calls for emergency shelter,” said Russ Partridge, executive director of the WARM Center. “Our beds are all full.”
The WARM Center has 19 beds for homeless adults at its year-round Spruce Street facility, as well as six beds in an emergency winter shelter at the Roger Williams Inn.
When calls for help exceed that capacity, Partridge said, he can sometimes arrange for people to take shelter in Providence, or in an emergency he can set up cots at the WARM Center.
Sometimes, people double up with family members that have homes.
If it’s a family that’s out in the cold, “we find a way to rent a hotel room,” Partridge said, because WARM only takes adults.
There are also people who, regardless of weather, remain outdoors in tents. “It’s not at all something we encourage,” Partridge said.
Sam Soto, WARM’s community outreach case manager, goes out daily to check on people living outside, Partridge said, and sometimes delivers supplies, like coats and blankets.
Partridge can also check up on people at Anita’s Kitchen, WARM’s Spruce Street soup kitchen, If someone who’s been visiting regularly for lunch and dinner is suddenly absent, Partridge said he and his staff will try to find out if that person is OK.
At WARM there’s a curfew, drug screening, and other rules and conditions that some people don’t want to deal with, so they stay outdoors.
“That independence is something people want to hold on to,” Partridge said. He disagrees with their decision, but he respects it, he added.
Sometimes all he can do for people with no place to go is to refer them to other services.
When they need WARM, “they know where we are,” he said.
There have been reports around the country of homeless people freezing to death this winter but Partridge said it hasn’t happened in Westerly. However, when he worked with the homeless population of Providence, he said, there were a few people who succumbed to the elements.
Both he and WARM’s board of directors are dedicated to making sure that doesn’t happen here, he noted.
“It’s terrible,” Partridge said. “It’s terrible that folks don’t have a place to go.”