On days when the House of Charity opens its day room as a warming center because of extreme cold, director Ed McCarron has noticed new faces among the homeless seeking shelter there.
“We have seen guys we don’t know,” McCarron said. “They look like it’s new to them. You can just see it in their faces.”
Homelessness, a chronic problem in Spokane, may become more prevalent in the severe economic downturn as Washington companies shed jobs by the thousands. The annual winter homeless count, which occurs Thursday, will give human services officials a better grasp of the impact on the city’s working poor.
“I can’t say the economy has had an effect,” McCarron said of the number of homeless that seek shelter at the House of Charity. “But if it keeps going like this it certainly will.”
At the Truth Ministries homeless shelter on East Sprague, director Marty McKinney has noticed “a change in clientele” — more men staying until they can find jobs, as opposed to the chronic homeless with drug and alcohol problems.
The economy has affected his shelter in another way, too. McKinney said he lost two long-time donors this winter, both churches that called to say they could no longer afford to offer their support.
The cycle of layoffs and foreclosures comes amid one of the coldest, snowiest winters on record. When the temperature plunges below 15 degrees, the city authorizes selected shelters to open their doors to more people than they have beds for.
This winter, the House of Charity has become a warming center more than twice as often and to nearly three times as many homeless people than any other year since the policy was enacted by the city in November 2005. In those early days, temperatures had to reach 5 degrees before warming centers were activated.
So far this year, the House of Charity has become a warming center on 19 days, providing shelter to 737 people. In 2005, the shelter became a warming center on nine days, serving 266 people.
“The guys are so thankful we are open,” McCarron said. “We’re not pampering anyone. They sleep on the floor and get up in the morning. I regret we weren’t open more.”