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Shelter from the cold

I attended a meeting last Monday night at a local church. When I had opened the church door to set up for the meeting, I had heard what I thought were groans. I was alone, so I called out “is anyone here” before entering the meeting room but there was no answer.

We held our meeting and as the meeting was ending, it was announced that there is a “weird” “drunk” man outside so be careful. It was suggested that we leave in pairs. I did leave with another person and as soon as we were outside, I heard not groans but hacking coughs.

Against the advice given, I walked around a corner and there, lying on the ground, was a man. His head and body were covered with blankets. He was huddled in the corner under an overhang that would protect him from rain that was forecast for the night. His coughs were deep and sounded painful.

I asked if he was OK.

“Yes.”

If he wanted me to call someone.

“No.”

I considered calling the police but was concerned they would most likely get him to move on. They would have no place to take him and he just wanted to sleep. I left feeling guilty and ashamed.

I used to do a lot of volunteering in support of the “homeless” or “unhoused” community but have volunteered less in recent years. I am still very much concerned about the continuing lack of shelter for so many people in our town.

With the start of the Winter Shelter Program in mid-November, I decided it was time to help out again. I attended a training for the Winter Shelter Program along with about eight others.

I learned about the new winter shelter model ,which allows only pre-screened and vetted people to stay overnight. People who qualify (the most vulnerable are given priority) and commit to abiding by the rules are guaranteed a spot for the season that ends in mid-April. There is a waiting list, and hopefully there will be more beds available in January when a permanent location is secured.

Right now, the shelters are temporarily in multiple churches seven nights a week. When I started volunteering, there was a shelter one night a week. The community, including volunteers, churches, the city and nonprofits, has made tremendous progress.

If you are interested in volunteering for the winter shelter, contact Phil Johncock, shelter consultant, email: OneSiteAshland@gmail.com, or call 702-518-8756 (text OK). I did sign up for the winter shelter, Christmas night. I decided it would be a good place to celebrate this holiday season by giving my time to support those most in need of “shelter from the cold.”

Regina Ayars lives in Ashland.

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