After the coldest October on record in Spokane, organizations that provide resources to the homeless are struggling to provide basic protection like hats and gloves.
“We ran out of everything, socks and gloves, at the beginning of this week,” said Susan Tyler-Babkirk, director of Women’s Hearth.
Most shelters and nonprofits that provide essentials like hats, gloves, socks, and scarves to those experiencing homelessness don’t stock up for winter until late November.
“We’re just getting nailed right now with requests,” said Jon Carollo, the regional Volunteers of America director of development. “It’s unique because we typically don’t get this cold in September.”
With an average temperature of 42.3 degrees, this October beat out October 1905 for the coldest on record. Temperatures dropped to freezing 13 days last month, which has only happened 14 times over the last 120 years.
With almost every shelter full, people are sleeping in doorways or huddled four or five together in a park or under the freeway to stay warm, said Fawn Schott, regional Volunteers of America CEO.
“Some women engage in survival sex,” said Heather Thomas-Taylor, assistant director of Hope House. “They go somewhere that’s dangerous.”
With 48% of women in the shelter coming from a domestic violence situation, many will return to their abusers rather than endure the cold, Thomas-Taylor said.
Warming shelters set to open next month will accommodate people during the hours they’re open, but donations are still needed for outdoor conditions.
“They just give people a break from 8 o’clock to 8 o’clock,” Carollo said of overnight warming centers.
Crosswalk, a 24-hour youth shelter for teenagers 13 to 17, has had beds open most nights for the last few weeks while other shelters are at capacity. The shelter offers three meals a day and serves both boys and girls.
Donations are especially needed until the shelters open. Hand and foot warmers, socks and long underwear are among the most highly needed items, Carollo said.
At Women’s Hearth, a day shelter open seven days a week, gloves, socks and scarves are “the big three,” Tyler-Babkirk said.
The shelter usually hands these items out as part of their Christmas gifts and starts getting lots of donations when the holiday season kicks off around Thanksgiving.
“Things start rolling in usually mid-November and December,” Tyler-Babkirk said.
They will often “squirrel away” a few coats along with other winter supplies to get them through the few cold weeks that often come before donations roll in, Tyler-Babkirk said.
“We know that this period is a little zone of emptiness before the holidays hit,” Tyler-Babkirk said.
After running out of things earlier this week, Women’s Hearth posted on Facebook to voiceits need.
“I’m so grateful for the community to start realizing we better start sending things early,” Tyler-Babkirk said.
The major needs are gloves, socks, water resistant coats, “sensible” winter boots in all sizes, and size small underwear.
Family Promise, a shelter for expectant mothers and people caring for children, is running over capacity every night cause of the cold.
Theshelter has space for 60 people to sleep on mats on the floor but have been housing 70 and turning people away.
“When we have 70 in the space, it’s pretty much wall-to-wall people and we do mats on the floor in family units,” Executive Director Joe Ader said. “We are starting to have some newborns. We’ve had a couple babies born in the last week.”
“With more people, we’re going through more stuff,” Ader said. “The warm weather stuff is good, but we also need things that are just basic.”
That includes soap, paper towels, toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
With everyone struggling with a low supply of winter gear, shelters are swapping what they have for what they need and sharing what they can so donating at one location can fill a need another.
“We’ll share accordingly,” Schott said.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Joe Ader’s, Susan Tyler-Babkirk’s and Jon Carollo’s names and to add Carollo’s title, director of development at Volunteers of America for Eastern Washington & Northern Idaho.
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