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Shelters, Volunteers Helping Homeless Through Cold

Reported: Jan. 7, 2014 10:44 PM EST
Updated: Jan. 8, 2014 9:36 AM EST
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Charleston, W.Va. (Kera Mashek) - When it is this brutally cold, being outside in the elements becomes a life or death matter for the homeless. In fact, with single digit temperatures and sub-zero wind chills, the effects of frostbite can be felt within just 10 minutes. That's why volunteers are out checking areas where homeless people often stay, urging them to get into a shelter before the cold becomes deadly.

"We just don't want people out here freezing to death," said David Smeade with Union Mission Crossroads.

Union Mission Crossroads volunteers are out going through alleys, around empty buildings and along river banks in Charleston looking for the homeless, offering them a ride to a shelter, clean clothing, and hot food. Thankfully, Tuesday afternoon, few homeless could be found outside.
But there was plenty of evidence of where they'd been sleeping in the bitter cold: from piled up blankets along a window sill behind a dumpster, to two tent cities along the Elk River.

And for David Smeade, the mission to check on those who might be staying out in the cold, is quite personal.

"I was homeless at one time, and I just praise the Lord that He changed me, and he's now allowing me to help people who are less fortunate. You know, we all make mistakes, and it's up to us to help them and show them there's a better way," said Smeade.

In one tent city, we found a man named Dave, who didn't want us to show his face. He's been out on the streets now for months.

"My mother died and when she passed away, they came back and kind of took our house away so my brother went off to Florida, and I just decided to go camping for a little bit until we can get right and get back in," Dave said.

Using makeshift heat sources, he says it's bearable, but he's glad community volunteers are checking up on people left fending for themselves in this arctic weather...volunteers like Michael Williams and his nephew. Williams drives by one tent city every day on his way to work, and felt compelled to help. Together, they delivered wheelbarrows full of firewood.

"We done a Facebook page where anybody could donate wood and we ended up with a truckload, and that's what we're doing is carrying it down and hopefully bless somebody with it," said Michael Williams, a Maranatha Church volunteer.

Between volunteers like them and shelters opening their arms and doors to help anyone in need, many homeless people are finding comfort and warmth on a bitterly cold nights.

Union Mission Crossroads says if you see a homeless person needing help, instead of giving them money, call the shelter or police, and someone can arrange for a ride to come pick them up, so that hopefully no one dies trying to survive outside.



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