Detroit — The Arctic blast caused Metro Detroiters to go the extra mile helping those needing a respite Monday.
The Detroit VA Healthcare System, at 4646 John R, opened its doors as a warming center for veterans and their families for the first time.
Safety was the motivating factor in opening the warming center, provided by the American Red Cross, Veterans of Foreign Wars and AMVETS, along with volunteers from the Detroit VA Healthcare System. Nighttime lows Monday were forecast to hit minus 13, according to the National Weather Service.
“With the temperature diving down dangerously low, it makes sense for us to provide space during the day for our veterans who may need to come in out of the cold,” said William Browning, chief of volunteer and community relations at the Detroit VA Healthcare System. “We don’t experience these temperatures often and we just want to ensure the safety of our veterans.”
Monday morning, about three dozens vets were using the center to get out of the cold.
Browning said the warming center, open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, is “bridging the gap.”
“We’re just providing a respite from the cold during the day,” he said. “We do have a large population of homeless vets in the area and those who may be displaced because of the weather.”
He said other veterans coming to the center for appointments may use the center before heading back to their homes.
But some organizations that usually offer warming centers were themselves casualities of the cold weather, and could not open.
Among them were the Baldwin Center in Pontiac and St. Peter and Paul Jesuit Church in Detroit.
“We were on vacation for two weeks and were supposed to open the warming center today, but we couldn’t manage it,” operations director Lydia Maola said Monday. She said the warming center at the church is expected to open from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesday.
The arctic temperatures did not stop people from venturing out for a midday meal at the Salvation Army MATTS (Macomb’s Answer to Temporary Shelter) in Warren.
“We had a few extra people show up for lunch and I was kind of surprised because I thought the weather would keep some people from coming,” said Major Kevin Van Zee. “And we have about the same number of people we usually do in the warming center.
The warming center remains open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“When there’s a life-threatening situation like the weather right now, you do what you can to help people,” he said.
Veterans can participate in board games or watch a movie. Browning said the Elks Club will sponsor a hot dog social on Wednesday.
In another move to help others during this time, a national clothing recycler, Planet Aid, with a local office in Romulus, will be donating blankets, sleeping bags, jackets and other items to the Coalition on Temporary Shelter on Friday, and again on Jan. 31.
Also Monday, a rehab unit with Southfield-based Community EMS crossed the region responding to assistance requests, doling out food, clothing, coffee, hot chocolate and medical care to those in need.
As the sun set and temperatures dipped below zero, they made their second stop of the day at the Neighborhood Service Organization’s Tumaini Center in Detroit.
A steady stream of people gathered outside the group’s bus, eagerly calling out requests for socks, blankets, doughnuts and more. Janine Beauchemin, a marketing executive with the nonprofit, and three others hustled to sort through the items — some donated — then distribute them, welcomed with a cheerful chorus of “Thank you” and “God bless you.”
“It’s a blessing,” said Tina Moore, cradling a cup in the frigid wind. “I appreciate it.”
The group plans to continue distributing Tuesday, and possibly longer, Beauchemin said. Donated items also are accepted. “If people need us, we’ll be there,” she said.
A number of other warming centers and homeless shelters are open in Detroit and the suburbs:
■ The Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries is providing emergency shelters for those in need, including meals, clothing, beds and the opportunity to shower.
The shelters are at: 3535 Third Street (men’s facility) in Detroit; Oasis, 13220 Woodward in Highland Park (a men’s facility;) and Genesis House III, 2015 Webb in Detroit (a women and children’s facility).
■ Cass Community Social Services at 11850 Woodrow Wilson St. in Midtown is serving women and children with room for 50 beds. The center is open from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. seven days a week.
■ Operation Get Down at 10100 Harper Ave. on Detroit’s east side reported about a 10 percent increase in homeless men and women. The facility has about 200 beds. It’s open daily from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Both warming centers are contracted by the city of Detroit and provide beds, a warm meal in the evening, breakfast and showers.
■ Community EMS has pledged a “rehab unit” that will take medical care, blankets, clothes and coffee to the city’s homeless. Anyone who sees a homeless person in need of help is asked to call (800) 343-4427.