The Winter Homeless Overflow Shelter at the First Baptist Church on Main Street in Brattleboro will be open from 5:30 p.m. to 7 a.m.(Zachary P.
The Winter Homeless Overflow Shelter at the First Baptist Church on Main Street in Brattleboro will be open from 5:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Wednesday January 23, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Luckily, there are places in the surrounding communities that can help the elderly and homeless during these cold winter months, especially with frigid weather warnings popping up for the area.

"It's going to be deadly cold in the next few days. We're happy to have a shelter for the winter," said Lisa Pitcher, executive director of the Our Place Drop-In Center in Bellows Falls, speaking about the Greater Falls Warming Shelter, which just opened this winter.

The National Weather Service is forecasting that between Wednesday and Friday, the average temperature will be 10 degrees. Windy conditions may result in wind chills below zero.

People are advised to monitor media weather reports and make sure they have an emergency supply kit at home that includes batteries, a radio, flashlights, bottled water and non-perishable food.

It is also recommended that people limit their outside activities and ensure that there is enough heating fuel. Emergency heating equipment may be a good idea, just in case.

For those who are in need a warm place, there is the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center and Our Place. These places specialize in feeding the hungry and giving folks a place to get out of the cold during the day.

"So this time of the year when it's cold, people from the (Warming) Shelter will stay here during the day," said Pitcher. "Often, people will come for lunch and breakfast, Monday through Friday. They may stick around a little longer in the winter."

The Greater Falls Warming Shelter, in Walpole, N.H., opens up at 7 p.m. and closes at 7 a.m. Our Place Drop-In Center opens at 7:30 a.m. in the winter, which is a half hour earlier than in other seasons.

People come to Our Place Drop-In Center mainly to eat, Pitcher said. There is a dining room, food pantry and sitting area.

"A lot of people from the Warming Shelter are here for most of the day," said Pitcher. "They may go to the library or to other appointments for a safe, warm place to be. We find that people hang around longer when it's cold."

Our Place Drop-In Center is not just for the homeless, but also for the elderly, disabled and people who need a warm place. Some visitors use the dining room to surf the Internet and read books.

"A lot of people keep the heat down," said Pitcher. "Especially when they are on very limited, fixed incomes."

Last winter, there was no Warming Shelter. Instead, people had to go to Keene, N.H., or Brattleboro for shelter. Although it wasn't as cold, there had been concern over it.

"Our numbers have been increasing every year, in terms of people eating with us," said Pitcher. "There's about 55 people or so each day, between breakfast and lunch."

The Warming Shelter can hold up to 10 people.

"Right now, we're not over capacity. There have been times in the past where they had to turn away people," Pitcher said.

She said there were only two instances in the last two months that she could recall people being turned away. A shelter opening up in Keene has helped some of the people who potentially could have been turned away.

"Shelters are only open for a few months a year. So it doesn't solve the problem for the rest of the year," Pitcher said.

Pitcher told the Reformer that the Bellows Falls Police Department will direct people to the Warming Shelter or Our Place Drop-In Center, if there seems to be concern over shelter or food.

She said the Bellows Falls Police Department and Walpole Police Department have been invited to the Warming Shelter and some police officers have come to meetings if there were any concerns.

"They do help make sure people aren't freezing out there in the cold," said Pitcher.

Brattleboro Chief of Police Gene Wrinn said the Brattleboro Police Department wants "to make sure people definitely have a place to stay in the cold weather." When on patrol, police officers make rounds, checking for anyone who may need assistance.

"We try to assist people as we run into them," said Wrinn. "There are resources out there. They can reach out and ask for help."

Wrinn listed the Brattleboro Overflow Shelter in the First Baptist Church on Main Street, in addition to the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center and the overnight Greater Falls Warming Shelter as places that can be used as resources.

Wrinn is also concerned about people trying to sleep outdoors at this time of the year.

"Don't try to stay out in this cold," he warned. "Tomorrow's supposed to be real bad."

The Vermont Department of Health advised to take extra precautions to reduce the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Proper clothing should be worn outside at all times.

Wrinn mentioned that it is important to "keep checks" on elderly neighbors, who may need help. The minimum temperature should be kept above 68 degrees for the very young, the elderly or people with health problems, according to the Department of Health.

The National Weather service said that a hat should be worn to cover the head. A warm coat and gloves should be used to protect against frostbite and hypothermia. It is also advised to limit the areas of exposed skin and dress in layers to protect against the cold.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.