Blount County opens warming station for the homeless

Sara Wilder # State

MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - With the weather turning colder for the next few months, Blount County is opening up a warming shelter for people in the area who have no where to stay.

The shelter will be geared towards single men and women in the Blount County area. There are alternative services available for families with children.

Community members have had this idea for a long time, and they are working together to make it happen this year.

Kathi Parkins is the director of Family Promise. She said the mission of the warming shelter is to give people a warm place to stay.

"There are people out there who are going to freeze to death if we don't provide this for them,"
Parkins said.

The shelter will be set up in the gym at the First Baptist Church in Maryville on nights the temperature drops to 20 degrees or below. United Way and the East Tennessee Foundation have stepped up to pay for supplies, like cots and blankets.

Rick Myers is the director of the Chilhowee Baptist Center. He said they are looking for volunteers to help them on nights the shelter opens up.

"We need physical presence here. We need help from our churches. We need help from people who can come and just spend the night between 7:00 at night and 7:00 in the morning, just so they are taken care of and the facility is kept safe,"
Myers said.

Myers said they are constantly seeing an increase in the homeless population in Blount County.

"Unfortunately, we don't have the means of doing more for them so we see a need here of having a place for them to spend the night in safety,"
Myers said.

A white flag will fly in front of First Baptist Church to let people know the shelter is open. Organizers said they are in constant communication with the National Weather Service, so they can keep an eye on the forecast.

"Not just to give the staffing partners an opportunity to get ready, but also to let folks who may need it to know there's a place that they can go to if temperatures get to 20 degrees or below,"
Lance Coleman, director with Blount County Emergency Management Agency, said.

The shelter will offer people a cot to sleep on, a warm blanket to take with them after they leave and a hot breakfast in the morning.

"We're going to let them take the blankets with them as they go to help make sure that they're warm throughout the day,"
Myers said.

If you would like to volunteer, contact Rick Myers at the Chilhowee Baptist Center or United Way of Blount County.