With wind chills in the 20s and colder temperatures on the way, Shantay Johntay Johnson stood outside the Presbyterian Night Shelter Thursday afternoon, thankful she had a warm place to spend the night.
Life in Fort Worth’s homeless district is always hard, but especially when the temperature drops below freezing.
“There are some places like this one that are compassionate that will let you stay inside since it’s so cold,” said Johnson, 33, who has been homeless since October. “Normally, we are awake at 6 and we have to be out by 7. They are not making us leave today since it’s so cold.”
An arctic cold front that arrived Wednesday night dropped temperatures to 32 degrees early Thursday and sent hundreds of homeless people to the night shelter.
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The shelter, with a capacity of 710, welcomed more than 650 people.
“That’s typical when a cold front comes in,” said Toby Owen, CEO of the Presbyterian Night Shelter. “We usually start reaching capacity after a couple nights of consistent cold weather and toward the middle or end of the month.”
The Union Gospel Mission of Tarrant County had 38 people overnight in their emergency services shelter.
Thursday morning’s freeze was the first of this winter season and Friday morning will be even colder, with temperatures expected to dip to 24 degrees. Friday afternoon should warm up into the 40s and temperatures should climb into the 50s on Saturday.
“If you don’t have a lot of layers on, you can still experience frostbite and hypothermia with these wind chills,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Lamont Bain.
Normally, the Presbyterian shelter requires everyone staying for the night to be in by 6 p.m., but when temperatures drop below 40, the shelter accepts people day and night until it is full, Owen said.
Owen expected more people to arrive Thursday night, but said he does not expect to reach capacity.
Staff and volunteers are prepared to serve a large number of people with blankets, water and meals.
“We have extra supplies on reserve all year long in case of bad weather or emergencies so that we don’t have to stress out so much on days like this,” Owen said.
Those who are homeless appreciate the help, and not just when it’s cold.
“The worst thing about this [being homeless] is having to stay on the move all the time and begging. I hate to beg,” Johnson said. “But a lot of stuff gets given to me. Nice stuff. The phone I have is new and it’s paid up every month. The coat I’m wearing is too small, but I’m wearing it.”
She said most people don’t understand their situation.
“I just wish people could see things from our point of view. You may have the nice house, the car and everything right now, but that could all be taken from you in a second,” Johnson said. “And then you’d be out here. I have to go through this every day.”
Terry Brown, 53, an Army veteran, agreed with Johnson, saying there is no quick fix to homelessness.
“The worst thing about being homeless is not the cold,” Brown said. “It’s having to come to terms with your past decisions that put you in this place.”
Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3
Azia Branson: 817-390-7547, @aziabranson
Don’t forget your pets
Fort Worth area police are reminding residents that it’s too cold to leave pets outside all night.
“PLEASE bring your pets inside,” said a Grand Prairie Police Department post on social media with a photo of a dog with snow on its face and a caption that read, “Please let me be an indoor dog tonight.”
Grand Prairie police urged residents to call police if they see neglected pets.
Keller police typically post reminders before especially cold nights to “please make sure your pets’ needs are being met.”
“If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them,” Keller’s post said.