Shelter accommodates homeless and their pets

by lisa walton lisa.walton@gazette.com - Published: December 3, 2013 | 10:40 pm 0

As temperatures fell below freezing Tuesday night, seven people wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags waited outside the Springs Rescue Mission, each hoping to get one of the six unclaimed cots inside.

The winter warming shelter on West Las Vegas Street has operated at capacity since the first week of November, when it opened, and with an arctic blast expected overnight and through the week, Tuesday was no exception.

"Every day we're full," said Bob Hughes, vice president of programs for the Springs Rescue Mission. A list of people guaranteed a spot is randomly drawn each day.

The mission is the only shelter in Colorado Springs that offers accommodations for animals - a fact not lost on those on the streets who are not willing to be without their pets.

"It allows us to bring in people who we otherwise couldn't bring in," Hughes said. For some people, he said, their pets are everything, and they don't want to leave them, even in freezing temperatures.

James Cline and his dog, "Dog," were among those waiting for a spot Tuesday. Dog bit playfully at people's feet, and chased around an old tennis ball that didn't bounce. She wore a purple vest someone donated.

"As long as she's moving, she'll stay warm," said Cline, who rides Dog around town on his bike.

Derek Thomek, 22, said he had slept under a bridge Monday night. But on Tuesday night, he'd made the Mission's list, guaranteeing that his black cat Captain, and his chocolate-colored dog Cash had a warm place to sleep that night. But his wife, Nina, was one of those waiting outside.

If she didn't make it in, he'd give his spot to her, he said. "Her and the animals come before me," said Thomek, who'd left a shopping cart full of dog food outside. "Me and my wife love our animals like we love each other."

On Tuesday, with temperatures predicted to drop to 10 degrees or lower, the animals' kennels, usually placed in a fenced area outside the building, were moved inside a nearby warehouse.

On nights when the temperature drops below freezing and the Mission is full, the Salvation Army's RJ Montgomery Center on South Sierra Madre opens as an overflow shelter; director Gene Morris said he expected the 25 overflow beds would be claimed Tuesday.

Both shelters also will offer dayside accommodations for the homeless this week; in addition to frigid weather, forecasters expect one to three inches of snow to Colorado Springs on Wednesday, with a high of around 10 degrees.

The heaviest snow is forecast for northwestern Colorado and a small area in southwest Colorado. Snowfall forecasts range from 4 to 18 inches. As the snow moves out, the temperatures will continue to drop, with below-zero temperatures forecast for Wednesday and Thursday nights.

The thermometer could drop to a record low. According to the National Weather Service, the record low for Dec. 4 is 4 below zero, set in 2009.

In addition to shelters in the downtown area, the Red Cross opened a temporary shelter in Black Forest. By 9:30 p.m., only one person had checked in; the shelter has room for 40. The shelter was working with the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region for off-site accommodations for small animals.

"There might be a need, but hopefully people don't need it," said Red Cross spokesperson Bill Fortune. "Our goal is to just be there to protect people."

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