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Arctic blast opens warming centers in Metro Detroit

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Warming centers across Metro Detroit have opened their doors as an arctic blast Tuesday sent temperatures plummeting to match a record set in 1880.

"We're bursting at the seams," said Elizabeth Kelly, executive director of HOPE Adult Shelter, a year-round shelter in Pontiac. "There's just a lot of demand because we're the only walk-in emergency center in Oakland County."

Temperatures at Detroit Metro dropped to 11 degrees Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. The frigid temperatures put an already vulnerable population at more risk, said Kelly.

"Not only are (the homeless) out in all kinds of weather, but they also might be wearing hand-me-down clothes," she said. "They tend to walk a lot and then maybe sit (outside) for awhile, and that's very dangerous."

The Pontiac shelter began year-round service in November 2013 and recently began encouraging guests to remain inside the shelter during the day.

"Right now when the weather is this cold, we run 24 hours a day," Kelly said. "We want to make sure people have the opportunity to stay out of the cold."

HOPE is a low-barrier shelter serving men and woman 18 years and older.

"Low barrier means we don't deny people entry if they're inebriated or high," Kelly said. "They have to be able to follow rules but sobriety is not a requirement for entry."

In Detroit, Cass Community Social Services is one of the few organizations providing shelter for men and women with children, according to its executive director Faith Fowler. The shelter on Cass and Selden opened for the season on Saturday and offers a "home-like environment" with showers, television and a homework club.

"Last night was the first really cold night so we're just starting to see people," Fowler said. "Last night, we had a woman with a two-year-old boy, (and she) was pregnant as well."

The shelter has longer than normal hours to accommodate children who need shelter outside school hours, said Fowler.

"We open at 4 p.m. whereas a lot of shelters don't open until 7 p.m.," said Fowler. "That'd be a long time to stand outside if you're a kid getting out of school."

The shelter is open until 8 a.m. unless daytime temperatures drop below 10 degrees in which case it remains open throughout the day.

"(Homelessness) is a scary situation", Fowler said. "We try to keep people warm and make them feel safe."

Kathy Goodrich, the director of the Macomb Warming Center and Ray of Hope Day Center in Eastpointe, said the early winter weather has led to an uptick in guests.

"We've been seeing record numbers since day one," said Goodrich. "Last year on our opening night, we had 97 people, and this year, we had 119 people."

Opening night for the shelter this year was Nov. 9 at a church in Warren.

The Macomb shelter rotates between churches volunteering space. Renewal Church on Thirteen Mile in Warren is providing its building through Saturday.

The shelter serves men and women 18 years and older from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and offers hot dinners and breakfast.

"Nobody goes out without something in their stomach," Goodrich said.

Beyond a warm place to sleep, many area shelters provide extra services through out the day.

Goodrich also runs the Ray of Hope Day Center in Eastpointe, which provides services that include assistance with medical, dental and mental heath needs.

In Detroit, Cass Community Social Services provides transportation for guests seeking warmth when the shelter closes at 8 a.m.

"We provide transportation — two bus tickets per person," Fowler said. "We like them to get somewhere that's safe and warm (during the day)."

Fowler added that guests can use the second ticket to return to the shelter when it re-opens at 4 p.m.

Other organizations offer night-time services inside the shelters.

"We have an on-site health clinic that is run by volunteer nurses," Kelly said. "Most of our guests now have health insurance (because of the Affordable Care Act) but they don't understand necessarily how to use the insurance properly."

Kelly said the Pontiac shelter also offers mental health screenings and diabetes management help during the evening.

The shelters share a common goal of keeping people shielded from the arctic chill.

"In one sentence: Homelessness can kill," Kelly said. "It's a deadly condition to be homeless in a climate as unforgiving as Michigan."

(313) 223-4616

Warming Centers

Cass Community Social Services

Serves men and women with children

Location: Cass and Selden in Detroit

Hours: 4 p.m.-8 a.m.

Phone: (313) 883-2277

HOPE Adult Shelter

Serves men and women 18 years and older

Location: 249 Baldwin Ave. in Pontiac

Hours: 24 hours

Phone: (248) 499-7345

Macomb Warming Center - Night Shelter

Serves men and women 18 years and older

Location: Renewal Church, 11174 Thirteen Mile Rd in Warren (through Saturday)

Complete schedule online at

Hours: 7 p.m.-7 a.m.

Phone: (586) 321-0998

Macomb Warming Center - Ray of Hope Day Center

Serves men, women and children

Location: 14933 Nine Mile Road in Eastpointe

Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday

Phone: (586) 218-7173