Snowfall strains homeless shelters

Shelters intensify operations during snow days


Heavy snowfall creates a difficult situation for Charlottesville’s homeless as shelters and aid organizations strain to fulfill increased need.

“When people talk about a snow day, it’s kind of the opposite for us,” Hitchcock said. “Instead of shutting down, we have to ramp up.”

As University students and faculty enjoyed a third snow day, Charlottesville’s homeless and the organizations serving them faced a difficult situation.

Social services that cater to homeless men and women are faced with a number of challenges on snowy days, said Stephen Hitchcock, program director and chaplain at The Haven, a downtown homeless-aid facility.

“When people talk about a snow day, it’s kind of the opposite for us,” Hitchcock said. “Instead of shutting down, we have to ramp up.”

In addition to the increased influx of homeless men and women coming into the facility, Hitchcock says that getting staff to work during inclement weather can present additional challenges.

“Sometimes we put our staff up in a hotel,” Hitchcock said, explaining how snow can create travel challenges. The organization requests help from volunteers, including University students who live within walking distance, on particularly treacherous days.

“I was honestly very pleased with how our staff and the volunteers responded,” Hitchcock said.

Hitchcock said this season’s planning and preparations have put the facility in a position to handle many potential issues that could arise during a severe snowstorm.

“We’re ready with salt; we also have a gas fireplace,” Hitchcock said. “Even if the electricity goes out, there is a source of heat.”

On days with severe weather, The Haven’s doors are open to everyone, including individuals who have been suspended from the program.

Though The Haven operates solely as a daytime shelter, night-shelter PACEM provides roofs for up to 65 individuals each night, including during snowstorms.

“Obviously this doesn’t accommodate everyone in the community,” said Maggie Rank, head program director of Madison House’s “Hoos Assisting with Life Obstacles” program, in an email. “Charlottesville, like many other cities, feels the strain when the weather is so harsh.”

Student-run Campus Kitchen prepares meals at Observatory Hill Dining Hall’s kitchen for needy individuals on Sundays and Tuesdays, has not faced challenges delivering food as this year’s major storms have not hit on those days. Co-coordinator Anthony Hadford, however, said he could foresee challenges if a storm were to coincide with one of their delivery days.

“It would be difficult driving down [to deliver the food],” Hadford said. He said that a Sunday or Tuesday snowstorm could cause operations to close down for the day.

Though the snow creates problems for organizations catering to the homeless, Hitchcock said it also evokes a strong sense of community.

“You might liken it to the way a family gets cooped up in a house in the snow,” Hithcock said. “It can be a lot of fun actually. … It can create a communal feeling.”

Published March 4, 2014 in FP test, News

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