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Shelters, homeless advocates adjust to extreme cold

Posted at 9:18 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 23:56:10-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As temperatures drop to dangerous levels across Middle Tennessee, both shelters and homeless advocates are making adjustments to help people get out of the cold.

For just the second time this Winter, Metro's overflow shelter at the Nashville Fairgrounds will also be open during the day. Typically, the shelter opens at 7 p.m. and closes at 7 a.m. the following morning. Now employees will be working extra hours to ensure anyone in need has a place to escape the snow and ice. People who check in at night, are encouraged to stay through the following day.

The Fairgrounds shelter is in addition to the shelter at the Nashville Rescue Mission. People needing help are encouraged to go to the Rescue Mission before using the Fairgrounds shelter. No one will be turned away at either location. Pets are welcome at the Fairgrounds location.

People needing transportation to a shelter can ride a WeGo bus for free. WeGo Public Transit has partnered with the Metro Homeless Impact Division to provide people with cold weather cards to cover the cost of the ride.

Homeless advocate groups like Open Table Nashville have also made adjustments. On a typical, cold February night, the group would be canvassing the city and transporting people to area shelters. However, due to the snow and ice, the group did not head out on Monday night.

"We only have 15 passenger vans, and those don’t do well on ice," said Paula Foster, Executive Director of Open Table Nashville. "We’ve already lost people to exposure-related deaths. Literally, the shelters can be the difference between life and death."

Foster encouraged people needing a ride to use a WeGo bus until they are able to return to their patrols.

The shelters at the Nashville Rescue Mission and the Fairgrounds are part of Metro's Cold Weather Community Response Plan, which is revised each year. Nashville Vice Mayor Jim Shulman says it is important to learn from past experiences and be prepared to adjust as needed.

"It's part of Metro government's responsibility to take care of all of its citizens," said Shulman. "In a dangerous situation like this we have to step up."

Foster said Open Table has received reports of people being turned away at shelters, and not being able to ride a WeGo bus for free. She said she would like to see more consistent policies in place that will help people in need.

"I would ask for more flexibility, humanity and compassion when we deal with situations like we are in today," said Foster.