Local Good Center: 48 Hours as an Emergency Warming Station

Posted by Julissa Estrada, Local Good Center Executive Director, on Feb 15, 2023

Local Good Center: 48 Hours as an Emergency Warming Station

Earlier this month, the North Texas region experienced yet another massive winter storm. The icy conditions and below-freezing temperatures left many unsheltered individuals in the area at risk. For two days, the Local Good Center opened its doors as an emergency overnight warming station.

What’s an emergency warming station? Collin County does not have an official emergency shelter that is open to all. During a major winter storm, some unsheltered individuals in our community have no place to seek refuge. So, the Salvation Army facilities in East Plano and McKinney serve as emergency overnight warming stations to provide a warm place to stay, for anyone who is in need.

With this last storm, both stations quickly—and unexpectedly—reached capacity. The Plano location had 159 individuals, and the McKinney location had 50. Emails began flying as city officials began looking for an overflow location. Our city needed someone to step up.

Providing services for the unsheltered is not within the scope of usual programs at the Local Good Center. We do not have the training or even the basic supplies needed to serve as a warming station. But we knew we needed to respond. If not us, then who?
We agreed to serve as an overnight warming station, and then the Local Good team got to work. We started making phone calls to recruit volunteers and borrow supplies. We created sign-ups for food donations, overnight hosts, and some basic supplies like towels and hygiene kits.

In less than 2 hours, we had volunteers who braved the terrible road conditions show up at our building, ready to serve. We provided food, a shower, and warm shelter to 17 people on Tuesday night and 33 people on Wednesday night. And we had several other unsheltered friends drop in throughout the day. All together we served 50 people.

I had the privilege of meeting several of our guests. Many shared that it was a struggle with addiction, PTSD, depression, or a medical condition that became the catalyst to them becoming unsheltered. With some guests, these struggles were more obvious, but with others, not so much. We served a diverse range of people. Some left early each morning to head to work and then returned at the end of their shifts. Others stayed the entire time.

Let me share about two of these guests:

We placed colored pencils and coloring pages out to keep our guests entertained. One gentleman I met, whom I’ll call Wayne, spend several hours coloring with these supplies. He had great skill, and it was obvious he really enjoyed the activity. I mentioned that he was a great artist. Then he looked at me without blinking, with an intense look on his face, and said that his dream was to be an artist.

I felt the heavy weight of his sorrow. He was mourning the loss of his dream. The “fixer” in me wanted to jump in and help him create a plan to make changes and pursue his goal. I wanted to ask Wayne the details of why he was unsheltered… if he had a family… where he’s from… and so much more. But I knew the time and mood wasn’t right, with several people listening nearby. His eyes looked empty, and he had so much sadness. The moment was quickly interrupted with the arrival of more people at our door, with more needs.

Another young man I met was sitting in a chair, watching TV and relaxing. He balled up a paper towel and then tossed it towards the trash can… and he missed. I laughed and said jokingly, “Basketball’s not your sport, huh?”

He said, “No, I’m a football player.”

“Really?” I asked. “Did you play in high school?

He replied, “Yes, and I was really good! I was a running back. I wanted to go pro.”

I asked if he grew up around here. He said he did and that he went to South Oak Cliff. When Ray talked football, his whole face lit up. You could see his passion and love for the game. Ray could not have been more than 28 years old. Again, I wanted to ask all the questions, but I knew that was not appropriate right then and there.

These two brief encounters each lasted for less than 2 minutes, but they both reminded me how similar I am to Ray and Wayne.

I could very well find myself in this same kind of situation—not by choice, but because of an unforeseen circumstance such as a medical diagnosis/crisis, family loss, or financial crisis. And I was reminded that our building was full of individuals with dreams: big dreams, broken dreams, or simply dreams that might seem unattainable to them now.
In those 48 hours, I gained a new appreciation for therapists, counselors, everyone working in the mental health field, and those serving the chronically unsheltered. Surprisingly, I wasn’t saddened, but rather more motivated to continue to do the work I do. I felt re-energized and affirmed that the work that happens at Local Good Center prevents these situations and helps people move away from being unsheltered.

I was also filled with gratitude for personal friends and people in my network in the non-profit world. The ones that are trained to deal with high levels of trauma of the kind that filled our Community Room during those two days. What a hard field to be in… and what a needed career. These heroes are working so hard to serve this demographic of people with needs that vary from one end of the spectrum to the other. I am thankful for them.

And I am thankful for the many faithful people of Chase Oaks Church whose generosity allows us to serve our community at this capacity. Above all, I am thankful for the hope I have. Because of that hope I know that anything is possible for our us, our future, our dreams, and our community.

For more information about the Local Good Center and its programs, look here.

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