The cold triggers an emergency call for shelter volunteers

The United Way of Central Georgia coordinates volunteers for an emergency heated shelter at the Brookdale Resource Center.

MACON, Ga. — Editor’s note: The video in the story is from previous coverage on the Brookdale Warming Center.

Homelessness advocates in Bibb County fear the cold spell expected this weekend could prove deadly for those living on the streets.

Temperatures are expected to drop below freezing on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evening.

The high number of COVID-19 cases in the region has also reduced the number of volunteers available to partner agencies involved in the Homeless Coalition.

“We are anticipating it will be a cold weekend and we have been told the Salvation Army is virtually full due to COVID restrictions,” said June O’Neal, who chairs the coalition. “Recruiting volunteers right now is very difficult for all of us.”

When two men died of hypothermia on Christmas Day 2020, Mayor-elect Lester Miller coordinated efforts to open a warming center at the former Brookdale Elementary School near the former town of Payne.

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The director of the Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency explained that over the past 12 months, the focus of the center has shifted to go beyond just getting people out of the cold. .

“Our mission has evolved into a global programming center helping people stand up,” Hawkins said.

This operation remains near capacity, especially with coronavirus distancing requirements, but there is room for more during extreme cold spells.

United Way of Central Georgia, which operates the center, is calling for volunteers to help set up a temporary warming shelter in the old school’s gymnasium.

A minimum of five people is required for the two shifts each night.

“We’re looking for more than the nice 85-year-old retiree,” Hawkins said. “We need people to help set up beds.”

According to the United Way website, volunteers are needed from 7 p.m. to midnight and midnight to 7 a.m.

Those willing to help will be on duty on nights when the temperature is expected to drop below freezing. Duties will include helping to greet those seeking shelter, setting up and moving cots, and supervising the gymnasium.

Masks are mandatory and beds will be socially distanced.

Doors will open at 7:00 p.m. and guests must check in no later than 8:00 p.m. They will have to stay overnight and will have to leave the center the next morning.

Brookdale will have room for 25 overnight guests in the temporary shelter. No meals will be provided, only water, according to the United Way website.

Service agencies are struggling to keep going due to the high rate of illness among staff and volunteers and the resulting quarantines.

“People fear volunteering because of the variation,” O’Neal said. “God knows we don’t want anyone freezing to death. For my part, I will be voluntary. I know we are all exhausted.

Anyone interested in volunteering should email United Way’s Charlee Coker at [email protected] or call 478-621-7802.

Online applications are also accepted via this link to the United Way website.

Senior Civic Journalism Researcher Liz Fabian covers government entities in Macon-Bibb County and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.

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