HUNTINGTON,W.Va. (WOWK) As the temperature drops more people are turning to places like the Huntington City Mission for a warm place to spend the night and to get a hot meal, but not everyone who goes to the mission is homeless.
Snow and record low morning temperatures blew into Huntington this week, and the city mission Executive Director Mitchell Webb said it caught a lot of people by surprise.
“It turned a little quicker than we expected. It went straight from Summer into January(weather) it seemed like,” said Webb.
The executive director said the Huntington City Mission saw a 30 percent increase in the number of people in need of shelter this week compared to prior weeks.
The mission has 160 beds but Men’s Coordinator Junior Faulk said the facility makes special accommodations during the Winter.
“We have a ‘cold weather’ policy. If the weather is 40 degrees or below, anyone is allowed to come in,” said Faulk.
Webb said to accommodate everyone, some people might have to sleep in the lobby or in chairs if they run out of beds.
The city mission is primarily an overnight shelter, and residents are encouraged to leave during the daytime to find the assistance and resources they need, such as permanent housing or a job, but if the weather is bad outside they can stay inside until conditions improve.
Even though the numbers of visits to the shelter is up this week, Webb said while has seen a decrease in the homeless population the last three to four years, the number of people visiting the mission for a hot meal is up about 20 percent.
The mission is on pace to serve 120,000 meals this year, which is about 300 a day.
“I think what we have is a lot more working poor. People who have jobs, maybe a couple, and they are both working. . . . but they are just not able to make ends meat,” said Webb.
He also said there is the perception in Huntington that,” Every time you see a guy with a backpack is he homeless”.
One of the few ‘day centers’ in Huntington for people who need of a place to crash during the daytime is Harmony House.
The facility’s Assistant Director Marissa Clark said Harmony House, like the city mission, saw an increase in activity this week.
While she agrees with Webb that there is a decrease in the homeless population in Huntington, she does see an increase in the number of people wandering the streets.
“We see more individuals outside than in the past. We contribute that to the data that was collected about the number of people reporting a substance abuse disorder or mental illness,” said Clark.
The Huntington City Mission and Harmony House said they are always in need of warm clothes and blankets during the Winter months, and at the end of the day they don’t want to see anyone left out in the cold or hungry.
Both facilities serve three meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
And Faulk said the mission provides people with proper clothing from their clothing closet to handle the cold conditions during this time of year: shirts, pants, jackets, coats, socks, shoes and underwear.
They also provide blankets, bedding, and pillows to people who need it.
An official with Cabell County EMS said they can’t force anyone out of the cold, but they do see an increase in transports in the Winter months, usually for people with hypothermia.