AKRON, Ohio — A warm place to sleep at night is a basic need but one that could make a difference between life and death.
“It’s trying to keep people protected from losing fingers and toes and limbs and lives,” said David Churbock with Summit County’s Peter Maurin Center.
Churbock’s center usually takes in people on those extremely cold nights that can’t get into one of the county’s shelters, but this year, they can’t take in the same amount.
“We can’t do it in our facility anymore because of social distancing,” he said.
He’s worried that this winter will be extremely tough for people out on the streets.
“It’s going to get worse. I think you’re going to see some bad times,” he said.
Keith Stahl with Community Support Services said he’s never quite seen the homeless situation as dire as it is right now.
“We’ve seen an expansion of camps into areas that you didn’t typically see them at, more towards suburbs and what have you, and I think it just speaks to the desperation of people,” he said.
In collaboration with other homeless service providers in the county, which are all a part of the Summit County’s Continuum of Care, Community Support Services is now opening up its building on 111 E. Voris St. in Akron to create an emergency, pop-up, overflow shelter.
“If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to be prepared for the unexpected and to be flexible so this is our approach here in Akron to do that,” said Stahl.
Stahl said there’s office space, warehouse space and more to safely fit anywhere from 20-30 people, to even 100, if the need is there.
There’s even space to provide quarantine or isolation rooms to anyone who may need shelter, but have COVID-19 symptoms.
“When you’re dealing in emergency, we don’t have an option, even if someone presents with symptoms, to turn them back in the cold in January or February. We really have to come up with strategies that we can serve all individuals safely, so we really feel like this building and this facility will enable us to do that,” Stahl said.
Officials are working to get it converted by the end of the first week of January. But will only open it on nights that the temperature drops below 15 degrees.
Stahl said they’ll be flexible and will find a way to help as many people who may need it.
“We will find a way to meet the need whatever it is,” he said.
The shelter will need volunteers to oversee the operation in the evening and morning hours. Contact Community Support Services if you’d like to help.