Directors working to make room at already full Winter Warming Center


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    People started lining up at Springfield's Winter Warming Center more than an hour before doors opened Thursday, hoping to get one of the 54 beds available. But they're worried what the line will look like after the several inches of snow expected.

    “If we be here tomorrow, if [not] enough of us get in the overflow, we’ll be going to Sangamon or the Municipal Building, or somebody's going to have to get blankets and all that stuff and sleep in the street,” said John Gotto, who uses the Winter Warming Center. “And we don't want that."

    The warming center serves as an overflow shelter for men and women who couldn’t get into other area shelters.

    "The past two seasons we've seen almost from the day we've opened, reaching nearly to capacity,” Helping Hands Executive Director Erica Smith said. “So at minimum, 40, 45 people a night."

    Shelter directors said snow storms tend to bring in even the homeless who don't usually come inside.

    "We will get as many people in as we possibly can to be safe, because at this point, having people outside in severe winter weather is definitely a huge risk for them,” Smith said.

    For those they can't fit in, the warming center is working with other shelters to make room. As a last resort, people will be sent to the municipal building to stay warm.

    "Hopefully somebody reach out and hear our voice and let us know they let everybody in if they can, or that we can go someplace else,” Gotto said. “There's not too many places to go. But God is good. We're trying to survive."

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