ANDERSON — During the snowy weather and cold snap of the past two weeks, Main Street Church of God has provided a warm place to stay and a hot meal.
On Saturday, Pastor Don Billey said the warming center at the church, in the 4200 block of Main Street, would close after the last people using it have another place to stay.
“We found two guys a place to stay yesterday (Friday), and earlier in the week we bought a bus ticket for someone to travel to Jacksonville,” Billey said.
During two weeks of below-freezing temperatures the church has provided a warm place for 14 people to live and served about 700 meals, according to Billey.
The United Way of Madison County’s Thrive team was at the shelter to help people with their identification to receive benefits. The Madison County Health Department provided COVID-19 testing so people could get into a more permanent living situation, Billey said.
“The hardest thing has been finding volunteers because of the pandemic,” he explained. “We have had volunteers from five or six local churches who have helped.”
Operating the warming center has not been a strain on the church, according to Billey, because “the community has come through.”
The Anderson Police Department and local organizations that work with the homeless have brought people to the church, Billey said.
“Some of them are a little apprehensive at first,” he noted. “But once they realize we’re giving them a hot meal and a warm, safe place to stay, they’re appreciative.”
Billey said church members have asked those staying at the warming center how the facility could be made more welcoming to those in need.
“If we need to reopen, we will,” he said, alluding to the possibility of more sub-freezing temperatures before spring.
Joe Gallamore, 28, came from Muncie to volunteer at the church warming center.
“I heard they were shorthanded, and I asked what I needed to do and was told to just show up,” said Gallamore, who has been homeless in the past and decided to volunteer because he wants to contribute to the community.
“I’ve been in this position,” he said. “I’ve had some life problems myself and wanted to help.”
As of Saturday, Gallamore had been at Main Street Church of God for about a week.
“I know a lot of people don’t do this anymore,” he said of the warming center. “It’s a good way to plant a seed.”
As he has done in the past, Skip Ockomon of Anderson has been helping the local homeless population.
“We have been checking around the city for a couple of weeks,” he said, noting that a local laundromat is washing clothes for the homeless and another facility is providing shower access.
The effort to help the homeless has received a $1,000 donation to purchase shoes, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has donated sweatshirts, according to Ockomon.
“It’s just amazing, a lot of people have come out of the woodwork,” he said of the community response. “It has been overwhelming.”
The homeless population is hidden in the community and living outdoors by choice, Ockomon said.
“These are people with drug or alcohol problems or mental health problems,” he explained. “I haven’t seen anybody who has lost their jobs and out with their families.”
It’s heartbreaking, Ockomon said, to see people living in shelters and tents when other options are available.