Cold prompts emergency call for shelter volunteers: ‘Don’t want anybody to freeze to death’

The United Way of Central Georgia coordinates volunteers for an emergency warming shelter at Brookdale Resource Center.


Liz Fabian

The Brookdale Resource Center assists families with housing and provides temporary shelter when needed.

Advocates for those experiencing homelessness in Bibb County fear the predicted cold snap coming this weekend could prove deadly for those living on the streets.

Temperatures are expected to drop below freezing Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights.

The high number of COVID-19 cases in the region also has reduced the number of available volunteers for the partner agencies involved in the Homeless Coalition.

“We anticipate it being a cold weekend and we’ve been told Salvation Army is basically full due to COVID restrictions,” said June O’Neal, who chairs the coalition. “Recruiting volunteers right now is very difficult for all of us.”

When two men died of hypothermia on Christmas Day in 2020, then mayor-elect Lester Miller coordinated efforts to open a warming center in the old Brookdale Elementary School near the old Payne City.

Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency Director explained that in the last 12 months the center’s focus shifted to going beyond just getting people out of the cold.

“Our mission has evolved to a wraparound programming center helping people get on their feet,” Hawkins said.

That operation remains nearly at capacity, especially with coronavirus distancing requirements, but there is room for more during bouts of extreme cold.

United Way of Central Georgia, which runs the center, is calling for volunteers to help set up a temporary warming shelter in the old school’s gymnasium.

A minimum of five people are needed for each night’s two shifts.

“We’re looking for more than just the kindly 85-year-old retiree,” Hawkins said. “We need folks to help set up cots.”

According to the United Way’s website, volunteers are needed from 7 p.m. to midnight and midnight to 7 a.m.

Those willing to help will be on call for nights the temperature is expected to fall below freezing. Duties will include helping with the intake of those seeking shelter, setting up and moving cots, and supervising the gym.

Masks are required and cots will be socially distanced.

Doors will open at 7 p.m. and guests must check in no later than 8 p.m. They must stay the whole night and will have to leave the center the next morning.

Brookdale will have room for 25 overnight guests in the temporary shelter. No meals will be provided, only water, according to the United Way website.

Service agencies have been struggling to keep going due to the high rate of illness among staff and volunteers and the resulting quarantines.

“People are apprehensive of volunteering because of the variant,” O’Neal said. “God knows we don’t want anybody to freeze to death. I, for one, will volunteer. I know we’re all exhausted.”

Anyone interested in volunteering should email United Way’s Charlee Coker at [email protected] or phone 478-621-7802.

Online applications are also accepted through this link to the United Way’s website.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.