Most of us this time of year take for granted a warm home or hot meal, but sometimes the most basic necessities are out of reach for some. Winter can be a dangerous time for the homeless, when frostbite can take hold in minutes amid numbing wind chills.
When cold temperatures become a matter of life and death, homeless shelters fill up quickly, but some area churches in Bowling Green are filling the gap.
Adam Porsche, his fiancé, and their sons, ages two and four, are fleeing the cold that has a firm grip on south central Kentucky. They became homeless in December and left the life they knew in California.
"The area where we were living was very expensive, and at that time, I wasn’t working due to medical reasons," Porsche told WKU Public Radio. "We didn’t have the income to move to another place, so we fell on hard times.”
Until recently, Porsche supported his family by working in security. He has plans to find similar work here and get his family off the streets for good, but for now, they’ll wait out the winter conditions with the help of strangers.
Porsche’s family is at a warming shelter in downtown Bowling Green that’s run by Room In the Inn. The non-profit began as an alternative for the homeless who aren’t able to get beds in more traditional shelters like the Salvation Army. Sharli Rogers is a volunteer for Room In the Inn.
“The temperatures tonight could be deadly," Rogers stated. "We’ve already lost one person in the region this year to hypothermia, and so we’re really aware of that as a possibility for these folks."
On a Thursday evening, the Porsche family and nearly two dozen others are huddled inside the warming shelter. Overnight lows are expected to fall well below freezing. Rogers is working with Room In the Inn Program Coordinator Ashley Thornton to accommodate those in need.
“He said 16 can come. He has an extra cot," said Thornton. "We’ve got beds for 15, but we could put children together on the same cot," Rogers commented.
From November through March, Room In the Inn partners with churches to open their doors to the homeless one night at a time. After registering at the warming shelter, the homeless walk a block-and-a-half to the Presbyterian Church in downtown Bowling Green where they’ll have dinner and spend the night. The guests are met by David Coverdale, a church elder and volunteer for Room In the Inn. He says the givers benefit more than the receivers.
“We get more," Coverdale remarked. "That’s the real truth, and our congregation has taken to this like nothing we dreamed.”
Cots line the wall of the church’s kitchen and recreation area. Coverdale is acting as an innkeeper and will spend the night with the homeless. His church opens its doors every Thursday night. Some women in the church have prepared dinner. On the menu tonight is chicken casserole, green beans, salad, and bread sticks.
The Porsche’s top off dinner with chocolate cake and head over to a corner of the room that’s been partitioned off for the family of four. While they're spending their first night in the shelter, someone else is graduating, of sorts. James Allen has spent the past two years in church shelters operated by Room in the Inn, but tonight, he’s only visiting. This will be his first night in his new home.
“I feel good," Allen said. "I feel like I’m a newborn person.”
He's beaming with pride. It's been a long journey to get to this point. Allen retired ten years ago as a deputy jailer in Warren County. His alcoholism led him to squander much of his retirement to support his addiction. While the 68-year-old Allen is back on his feet, he’s not saying goodbye to the staff at Room In the Inn who have become his family.
“I’m going to miss them, but I’ll be back every day," stated Allen.
Allen plans to volunteer for Room In the Inn, a group that provided him warm comfort when he had no other place to turn. For volunteer Sharli Rogers, it’s about compassion and second chances.
“It’s one of those things I feel strongly about," commented Rogers. "A bit of bad luck or some poor choices shouldn’t be deadly, and when you’re in a situation like this in the winter, it can be deadly.”
When the homeless guests rise in the morning, they'll have breakfast and walk back to Room In the Inn's warming shelter. Some will go to work while others will get referrals for employment, substance abuse counseling, and mental health services.
Some 3,000 people living in Kentucky are considered homeless and at least 130 of them are in Warren County. Officials hope to get a better estimate in the state's annual homeless count which will be conducted on January 31.