Now that the temperatures are dipping below 40 degrees, Hazel House (formerly the Ramada Inn on Scott Avenue) is preparing to expand its emergency shelter into a 24/7 warming shelter.
We wholeheartedly support the Hazel House. But when frost bite and hypothermia become a concern, there should be a safe, warm place to go downtown.
In the past, churches helped supplement the Bartlett House by opening their doors on cold days and nights, and we’d like to see them do so again. And if churches are unable to provide space, there are quite a few vacant buildings downtown that can be converted into a warming shelter for the winter. This would require public-private partnerships, as well as volunteers, but we hope there are people in our community who would be willing to step up.
Hazel House is asking for volunteers to provide rides for people who don’t catch the last bus at 8 p.m., but a night short on volunteers may leave some people in the cold — literally. Also, everyone staying at the Scott Avenue warming shelter will be registered with the Homeless Information Management System — which may discourage some from using the shelter. This is not to suggest that registering individuals who are homeless so they can receive services later is a bad thing — quite the opposite. But there are people who won’t want to be in a database, and those people shouldn’t be left outside to freeze.
Hazel House is a wonderful thing, but the unhoused population shouldn’t become “out of sight, out of mind.” Social services often need to meet people where they are — in this case, a physical location. There needs to be a warm place downtown for unhoused people, just in case.