Coming in from the cold: Compassion, teamwork drives development of new warming shelter

 

From left, Mississippi University for Women Honor College students Treasure Heath and Cayla Skinner assist Community Outreach Director Glenda Buckhalter Richardson in setting up cots Thursday at the temporary emergency warming shelter in Columbus. The shelter, located at the Farmers Market Annex at the corner of Second Avenue and Third Street North, is open from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. tonight, Monday and Tuesday nights during sub-freezing temperatures, available for the homeless or for homeowners and renters without heat. Heath is from Starkville. Skinner's hometown is New Orleans.

From left, Mississippi University for Women Honor College students Treasure Heath and Cayla Skinner assist Community Outreach Director Glenda Buckhalter Richardson in setting up cots Thursday at the temporary emergency warming shelter in Columbus. The shelter, located at the Farmers Market Annex at the corner of Second Avenue and Third Street North, is open from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. tonight, Monday and Tuesday nights during sub-freezing temperatures, available for the homeless or for homeowners and renters without heat. Heath is from Starkville. Skinner's hometown is New Orleans. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

Amanda Strain of Columbus, left, and Hiedia Hozan of Aberdeen put donated pillows and blankets on cots at the temporary emergency warming shelter in Columbus Thursday. Strain and Hozan are part of an Ina E. Gordy Honors College class at The W teaming this semester with the Golden Triangle Regional Homeless Coalition, Community Outreach and the City of Columbus on the shelter project.

Amanda Strain of Columbus, left, and Hiedia Hozan of Aberdeen put donated pillows and blankets on cots at the temporary emergency warming shelter in Columbus Thursday. Strain and Hozan are part of an Ina E. Gordy Honors College class at The W teaming this semester with the Golden Triangle Regional Homeless Coalition, Community Outreach and the City of Columbus on the shelter project.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

Glenda Buckhalter Richardson

Glenda Buckhalter Richardson

 

Sandra DePriest

Sandra DePriest

 

Kim Whitehead

Kim Whitehead

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

 

For most of us, freezing temperatures are usually no more than an inconvenience. But for a man, woman or child without a place to call home -- or with a home, but no heat -- they can become life-threatening. That's what Hiedia Hozan remembers about someone she knew of in her hometown of Aberdeen. The junior majoring in public health knew the individual involved had to sleep in a car. Hozan's personal awareness of community issues like homelessness make her glad her Ina E. Gordy Honors College class at Mississippi University for Women is helping others committed to providing a temporary emergency warming shelter in Columbus. With sub-freezing temperatures predicted for a four-night span that began Saturday, the shelter at the Farmers Market Annex -- formerly the Boy Scout hut, at the corner of Second Avenue and Third Street North -- will open its doors from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. through Tuesday night. It's a collaborative effort of the City of Columbus, the Golden Triangle Regional Homeless Coalition and Columbus Community Outreach, with its nonprofit program Building Bridges of Hope.

 

At the annex Thursday, Hozan and several classmates helped set up cots and handle a donation of pillows and blankets that had just been dropped off.

 

"I really like the idea of this and being able to help people," said Hozan.

 

 

For Community Outreach Director Glenda Buckhalter Richardson and the Rev. Sandra DePriest of the Homeless Coalition, the honors college class's offer of help is welcome.

 

"I think it's absolutely wonderful," said Richardson. Often, she said, one of the first things people say when learning of issues like local homelessness is that they "had no idea." The students' experience, she said, will allow them to see the reality and tell the story from their own perspective.

 

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A pressing need for some type of local refuge from extreme temperatures arose in late fall 2019, when the mercury dropped to frigid levels in the Golden Triangle. For the short-term, the Columbus Police Department opened to several individuals who needed a place to sleep out of the dangerous cold. Soon, attention turned to the Farmers Market Annex building.

 

"We understand that the annex is not a permanent solution, but it's the only one that we have at this time," said Richardson, who daily works with other agencies to help get individuals and families into stable housing conditions. Her mission is "homelessness prevention." But she and DePriest know there are times when people find themselves without a roof over their heads, sometimes through no direct fault of their own.

 

The philosophy at the new shelter, DePriest said, "is one of compassion, with zero tolerance for disrespect for anyone else, or disrespect for property."

 

Getting the annex ready to receive people has required a lot of coordination. Matters including cots, bedding, security, volunteer staffing, food and even just getting the word out have all been priorities. But when the community became aware the shelter would open for only its second time, and for its first extended cold spell, donations began coming in. A microwave and freezer are now in place, people have dropped off new bedding and several groups have volunteered to bring meals or snacks.

 

Additional needs going forward, as of press time, include portable partitions for privacy, large area rugs, lampstands, cleaning supplies, DVD player and board games for children and adults. Blankets and pillows are also welcome. To make a donation or inquire about drop-off, contact Richardson at 662-364-1850.

 

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Ideas flowed freely Wednesday afternoon in a room at Whitfield Hall on The W campus. Six Gordy Honors College students seated in a circle on sofas and chairs exchanged ideas with DePriest. Honors College Director Kim Whitehead and student representatives of the group attended a recent Homeless Coalition board meeting; several students toured the shelter this past week. Now they were discussing how to help. Whitehead facilitated.

 

"We'd thought about getting a toy box and supplying it," MUW junior Laura Kate Inman told DePriest, adding that to a list of other suggestions that includes producing and distributing flyers or posters with shelter information, researching best practices of similar temporary shelters in other towns, helping with production of a volunteer manual and shelter-use guidelines, developing fundraisers and more.

 

The class emphasizes service learning, combining meaningful community service with structured academic preparation and personal reflection, explained Whitehead. Students will apply academic knowledge in a real-world setting while increasing self-awareness, pre-professional skill sets and a sense of civic responsibility.

 

"Students will use various skills they already have and also develop new skills," the director said, noting administrative and leadership experience to be gained. Students will have two work sessions each week throughout the semester.

 

Junior psychology major Amanda Strain of Columbus said, "I'm very excited to be working (on this) because I know there's a need for that kind of resource here in Columbus. I'm just excited about what progress we can help make and seeing the results in people's lives."

 

Caring about others and doing something about it has the potential to shape lives. As Wednesday's meeting neared an end, DePriest, moved to emotion, told the young women gathered, "You're never going to forget your involvement in this. It will shape you forever. You will always care about people who don't have a place to sleep in the cold."

 

 

 

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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