The Emergency Temporary Shelter for those in need is up and running.
This past weekend’s snowstorm, coupled with bitter wind chills, set in motion the opening of the shelter for the first time. The shelter was open Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights this past week.
Leigh Hanson, Franklin County United Way interim executive director, said the shelter’s debut went smoothly.
“Everyone is pretty proud we are able to do it,” Hanson said. “We have helped a couple of people Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. It is great to be able to help someone and not just talk about it.”
The Franklin County United Way has been attempting to open a shelter during inclement weather for the past few years, but this year, it everything fell into place.
“We had a coalition of more than 30 agencies around the county that were helping come up with it,” Hanson said. “The key thing was a local business offered their (building) and let us use that. I have to keep that confidential because we want to protect our clients, especially if there was a domestic violence case. If it was not for that business, we probably would not be going yet.”
Other organizations stepped up to provide other items. Hanson said churches donated food.
“People have donated socks, toiletries and all kinds of things,” she said. “AdventHealth donated linens. The business we are using has all the cots. It is coming together.”
Hanson said those needing the shelter must call her at 785-418-2015 by 5 p.m. on the days the shelter is open. She said it is important to call to make sure there are enough volunteers, cots set up and food prepared.
“I had people questioning how somebody homeless could contact me because they would not have a phone,” Hanson said. “We have not found that to be the case. If they don’t, they always can go to the sheriff department, police department, hospital, fire station — any of those would help someone get in contact with me.”
The shelter will open when conditions warrant, Hanson said.
“Franklin County Management suggests to me that we need to do it,” Hanson said. “They are monitoring the weather. This time, it was the combination of the winter storm, plus the cold temperatures. That also depends on if we get volunteers.”
Those wanting to volunteer to help with the shelter need to be at least 18 and must pass a background check. Hanson said volunteer forms are available in the United Way office in the basement of Bank Midwest.
Hanson said serving the community in this way is rewarding.
“We had a great time,” she said. “We sat at a table and we all ate. It was not weird or awkward. We would love to serve more people. There are more out there that need served. I am not sure if they chose not to use our facility or if they have not heard about it. I think it might grow as winter progresses.”
Hanson knew the shelter would be a big help to the community when the call came to open it on Sunday.
“I was pretty sure we would have at least one,” she said. “I get calls almost everyday from people that need help. There are emergency situations that people only need it for a night or two. We are not at capacity by any means. We are happy to serve one. People did not know if anybody would find out about it since the library was closed (Sunday). Various people that are experiencing homelessness hang out at the library.”
Those wanting to make donations for the emergency shelter may send them to the United Way, P.O. Box 233, Ottawa, KS 66067. When writing a check, put the word “shelter” on the memo line.