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Roswell Adult Center offers refuge in storm

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About 16 people have been in and out of the Roswell Adult Center since Tuesday night after the city and local volunteer groups worked to repurpose it temporarily to provide shelter, food and a warm resting place for those in need. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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About 11 people were gathered at the Roswell Adult Center Wednesday morning, a few sleeping and others sitting or walking around, after the city and volunteers established a temporary shelter at the building during the area’s snowstorm.

Over a period of about three hours, as snow was falling in the city and temperatures were dropping below freezing, Joel Wood, a local pastor and president of the Roswell Homeless Coalition, and Joe Neeb, Roswell city manager, had worked out the logistics to use the Adult Center at 807 N. Missouri Ave. as a place for those in need to stay from 6 p.m. Tuesday to 6 p.m Thursday.

“I was doing some street ministry yesterday, and I came across a guy off of West Second Street,” Wood said. “He was covered in about . inches of snow and just shaking. It bothered me. I thought there had to be more that we could do.”

The city’s two homeless shelters run by the Roswell Homeless Coalition were full with about 28 adults and five children, Wood said, with quite a number coming Tuesday to escape the weather.

As Wood continued his work Tuesday and took blankets, beanies and gloves to people staying outdoors, he came across another person buried in snow and decided he had to ask the city for help.

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“I told him (Neeb) I could mobilize volunteers and asked if there was anything they could do, was there someplace for people to stay.”

The city agreed to close the Adult Center for its usual purposes for 48 hours and to use a few rooms for a temporary shelter, what relief volunteers preferred to call a “warming center.”

“With the impact of the pandemic, the city’s buildings are underutilized for their normal use and we were able to help in this instance with their efforts,” said Neeb. “It would have been more challenging if the buildings were actively being used for their primary purposes.”

Wood said a “myriad” of people have pitched in since the decision was made to utilize the Adult Center. Local homeless advocate Jeneva Martinez is working as the volunteer coordinator for the effort, while groups such as the Roswell Disaster Relief Services, Seventh-Day Adventist Church on South Union Avenue and Harvest Ministries have been providing food, supplies and volunteers. American Red Cross provided free cots. A private security firm provided 24-hour security that is being paid for by Waymaker Church.

Neeb added that city staff are ready to volunteer and that the Roswell Police Department officers are checking in periodically during the nights.

“It has been a really neat response to see what our city can do in a very short period of time,” said Wood.

Volunteers and several people staying at the Adult Center said that operations had run smoothly for the first 18 hours, with no problems encountered. About 16 people had been in and out, some just for coffee, change of shoes and socks, or some food. About seven spent the night Tuesday.

“I think it is good for the community. I would like to see them keep it going,” said Jack Wright, who said he has experienced homelessness for about 10 years and hasn’t been able to find permanent housing. “I would like to see them get a little piece of property with sheds on it for the homeless.”

Martinez said she was pleased about the city-volunteer partnership.

“This is a step in the right direction, working with the city,” she said.

During last year’s winter storm, the city allowed people to seek shelter from the cold in public buildings during the daytime only, Neeb said.

He said the city and the Homeless Coalition have worked together for three years to develop “better transition plans out of homelessness.” He thanked the volunteers and nonprofits and said it showed that “together we can overcome any obstacle.”

Martinez and Enrique Moreno, head of Roswell Disaster Relief Services, said that people are not being forced to come to the Adult Center. Moreno said he and police looked Tuesday for people without shelter and offered to drop them off at the Adult Center. Shelter directors also were referring people there.

“There are a lot of people out there, but some of them are kind of hunkered down,” Moreno said. “But there are others who couldn’t handle the cold.”

Mark Green, executive director of Harvest Ministries, said that some who are homeless are prepared for the colder weather with sub-zero sleeping bags and tents, and many of those don’t want to leave their spots.

His group had provided breakfast at the Adult Center on Wednesday and was coordinating to provide additional food if needed.

Martinez said the current need is for unopened packages of socks, shoes, blankets, beanies and gloves. Moreno said people also can let them know if they find someone in need of shelter.

Those interested in contacting the volunteers can call 575-420-9142.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.