MASON COUNTY — Like many regions across the country, Mason County has experienced some extreme temperatures over the past couple of days, rendering its already vulnerable homeless population even more so.
Locally, temperatures have dropped into the single digits and even below zero overnight, making it extremely dangerous for people to sleep outside.
Mason County Homeless Shelter has found itself operating at above-capacity numbers.
“We are full at 15,” said senior staff member Teresa Gleason, 12 being considered the shelter’s population capacity.
No one gets turned away, though, said shelter director Wayne Bailey.
“If someone shows up here in the middle of the night, and needs a couch, it’s our policy not to turn anyone away,” said Bailey.
The shelter is also an emergency warming station, a soup kitchen, and a food pantry, Gleason said.
“We’re also open to people who might have a home, but cannot afford to keep it adequately heated, or people who might be having trouble buying food,” Gleason said, adding that those who need to can stop by for a shower, to do laundry, or have a meal.
Bailey said that he and other staff members can also help its temporary residents find information they need on housing and jobs.
Although the National Weather Service reports that temperatures will “begin moderating on Wednesday,” it’s still early January, with several weeks of winter ahead, and Bailey and other staff members are gearing up for a Point-in-Time survey later this month, along with homeless shelters in other regions.
Through the survey, which is a national initiative, the Coalition to end Homelessness is able to get a better grasp on homelessness statistics and better assess regional needs.
“There are a couple of different methods for counting the homeless,” Bailey said. “One is to go out on the streets over a 24-hour period and count people. That works better in cities, because in rural areas people are harder to find.”
Bailey said that in the past he and other workers have gone out into wooded areas and under bridges in the effort to get an accurate count.
“But this year we might be able to try some other ways,” added Bailey. “We were thinking of offering people gift cards to come in here during the survey.”
In the meantime, the homeless shelter plans to keep offering its services, day after day.
“The population is so vulnerable at this time of year,” said Bailey. “So it’s a busy time.”