Hoping to come in from the cold

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Matt Gardner, left, discusses his housing history Friday with Chris Green, an emergency shelter case manager at the St. Vincent de Paul H.E.L.P. Center in Coeur d'Alene.

COEUR d'ALENE - As a receptionist at the St. Vincent de Paul HELP Center, Wanda Golding sees folks facing tough times on a daily basis.

The man who walked in on Friday afternoon, though, caught her attention.

"What can we do for you?" Golding asked.

"I'd really like a cup of coffee," he said.

She brought the hot drink to the shivering man, and delivered soup and crackers, too.

"He was shaking so bad he could hardly hold a cup of coffee," Golding said.

This week's cold snap that saw temperatures in the teens prompted the openings of overnight shelters operated by St. Vincent's and Fresh Start.

Still, the homeless are struggling to stay warm and dry. Many are turning up at the HELP Center asking where they can go.

Golding and the rest of the St. Vincent's staff do their best, but face a challenge to keep up with demand.

The area's homeless population is estimated at 450 or so. These include folks who have been without a place to stay for months, and those who recently found themselves homeless.

"The vast majority of people need jobs and an affordable place to live," said Jeff Conroy, St. Vincent's executive director.

There is a monthlong list of events to raise help and awareness during November, which is Homelessness Awareness Month. A variety of fundraisers and activities are scheduled.

A 5K run Saturday to help homeless vets attracted 200 people. A candlelight vigil is set for 5:30 tonight at Independence Point. A "Souport the End of Homelessness" soup event is scheduled Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Kootenai County Faigrounds.

Many businesses are pitching by offering discounts or specials, with proceeds to food banks or shelters.

Gloves, hats, coats, boots, socks, tents and sleeping bags are just some of the items both St. Vincent's and Fresh Start are collecting so they can be distributed to the homeless.

One woman, neatly dressed in a jacket, hat, black pants and boots, said she slept at Fresh Start on Thursday night. Because it was full and she arrived late, she ended up on the floor - pillow, no, but blankets, yes.

It was a nice break from being outside.

"It was warm," she said.

The woman said there have been nights she hasn't slept, but instead she walks around until daylight to keep from freezing.

"You stay still, you get cold," she said.

"I'm surprised I've held up as well as I have," she added. "I haven't had any place to stay."

She arrived at the HELP Center Friday afternoon, black suitcase with her belongings in tow, because she was too tired to walk any longer.

"I just came here to be warm," she said. "I thought this was the warming center. I don't have any way to get to the warming center."

The nonprofit Fresh Start, at 16th and Sherman raised the trigger temperature to 25 degrees when it opens for the night.

This winter, it expects to be open 63 nights and provide 1,500-plus bed nights to the homeless.

The cost of operating the warming center is $150 per night.

St. Vincent's warming center is at 202 W. 7th Street in Post Falls. As the sub-25 degree temperatures continue, St Vincent's shelter will be open from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Transportation will be leaving from the St Vincent de Paul Community Dining Hall at 5:30 p.m. on the nights it is open, with transportation back to Coeur d'Alene in the morning.

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