The winter months can often be a struggle for the local homeless population. The number of those in need have increased following the damage caused by Hurricane Florence.
The Onslow Community Outreach (OCO) shelter has seen an even larger increase in people seeking a roof over their head than in regular winter months. OCO can accommodate 26 clients at a time, and they have been operating at full capacity since the storm, serving nearly 300 people since January 1 of this year, according to shelter officials.
“We expect, as the temperatures continue to drop, not only will our shelter remain full but that there will be an increase of people needing a place to stay,” Cindy Williams, OCO shelter director, said.
There are additional services OCO provides that help area homeless beyond providing a place to sleep and food to eat.
For Anthony Batts, the soup kitchen has allowed him to get by.
“I knock on the door at 6 p.m. and they give me a blanket,” Batts said.
Batts said he usually spends winters in the park, though he’d planned to spend the holiday season at his mother’s home in Richlands.
According to Theo McClammy, executive director at OCO, many people have been displaced by the hurricane.
“Twenty percent of the applicants for assistance this year have alternate addresses,” McClammy said in a live Facebook video with The Daily News. “They don’t have the same house, the same address, they had last year.”
Many of the hotels and motels OCO has partnered with in the past have also been damaged or are full or have increased their prices, McClammy said, and this has created a void.
Philippians Place is an organization that works with people facing homelessness and coordinates often with OCO. They help provide the non-food goods, like toilet paper and paper towels, people need alongside the meals provided by the OCO soup kitchen.
According to Lenize Patton, executive director of Philippians Place, the organization became a place to help navigate the options available for homeless in the area. Before the storm, Philippians provided “a whole list” of places for people transitioning from homelessness to rent, she said.
“Sadly some of the hotels that we could get our clients into, their prices are higher because of the storm,” Patton said. “Same thing with the rental properties. Some of the rental property that used to be $450 is now $550 or $500. My client now can’t afford that apartment.”
OCO was able to provide a day shelter for people to get away from the cold, according to Williams. It costs $390 a night to operate the shelter as it is, so operating a day shelter is a significant increase in operational costs. They have been aiming to partner with local churches and are actively seeking donations to do so again this year.
“We never turn anybody away empty handed,” Williams said. “We always give them resources.”
But they are always looking for help.
“We have volunteer positions both in the soup kitchen and in the shelter,” Williams said. “Donation of time and money is the way to help and of goods too — (especially) winter items. We have people who can’t get into the shelter, or don’t want to get into the shelter, but they’re in need of some goods.”
Reporter Maxim Tamarov can be reached at 910-219-8439 or firstname.lastname@example.org