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Harrisonburg’s homeless facing another tough week with cold temperatures ahead

Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 10:07 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - With another week of bitterly cold temperatures ahead, Harrisonburg’s homeless population continues to struggle to find places to keep warm throughout the day.

Open Doors Thermal Shelter closes its doors every morning at 7:00 and guests are unable to return to the overnight shelter until 6:30 in the evening which leaves many without a place to keep warm during the day, but Open Doors and others are exploring possible solutions.

“What we’ve been looking into is possibly extending hours and working with other organizations like Our Community Place, just trying to keep our unhoused neighbors safe and warm,” said Ashley Robinson, shelter director for Open Doors.

Leaders from Open Doors and Our Community Place met on Tuesday to discuss ways to collaborate, like extending and correlating hours so the city’s homeless can be out of the cold as long as possible during the day.

“We don’t have any other options. Every place we go to we get run off. We get trespass papers. We end up getting locked up, like there ain’t nowhere to go,” said Tiffany Carter, a guest staying at Open Doors.

Our Community Place is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. but only opens of the weekends if the high is below 32° Fahrenheit.

Another issue facing the homeless is the lack of readily available transportation between the two shelters.

“A lot of our guests will take public transit to someplace so they can at least be in for a little bit, but other than that there really are very few options for daytime shelter for our population,” said Ashley Robinson.

Neither Open Doors or Our Community Place has the staff or resources to be open all day but Open Doors could soon be getting a boost from the city.

“City Council will consider more than $300,000 in special funding for Open Doors and the Salvation Army’s needs related to homelessness,” said Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed earlier on Tuesday ahead of a vote making it happen.

City leaders have long discussed the need for a permanent 24/7 shelter in the city and Mayor Reed said with the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funding on-hand, it’s time to act.

“With having some once in a lifetime funding come to the city I think this is an oppurtunity for us to really look into establishing a homeless shelter,” she said.

Mayor Reed said whether creating a shelter means finding and purchasing an existing structure or building a new one, her vision is for a shelter to serve as much more for the city’s homeless.

“I want to see more of a campus, so that we’re not just providing a place for shelter but we’re also providing additional programs to support people to be independent,” she said.

In the meantime, Open Doors and Our Community Place hope to work together to find a temporary solution for those spending hours outside in the cold.

“This kind of weather out here is nothing to play with. It’s not a joke. It’s pneumonia weather. You can get sick, believe me I’ve been through it. I’ve been hospitalized, in and out of the hospital, for this whole week,” said Tiffany Carter.

Open Doors asks anyone interested in donating to the shelter to email Ashley Robinson at shelterdirector@valleyopendoor.org.

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