HELP FOR THE NEEDY: Warming Shelter at Methodist church deemed great success

Jan. 16—A warming shelter set up in the basketball gym at the First United Methodist Church in Tahlequah is offering clothing, food, beds and shelter to unhoused people for protection from this week's bitter weather.

The shelter opened at 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12, and is available to all who need to get in from the frigid temperatures. The first night, 20 people opted to sleep on cots and get three hot meals and clothing.

Rev. Shana Dry praised the community, which stepped up to help.

"The community has just lifted up and shown their voice. It is overwhelming the amount of donations, food — it's just unreal, all the clothing. And there are so many who come in that need clothing because of the weather," Dry said. "On Jan. 15, there were 33 that used the sleeping arrangements and [we were] feeding 55 at every meal."

At the Tahlequah Resource Outreach Team meeting Jan. 11, resource providers, along with Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King, worked out the details of opening the shelter.

Ward 4 Tahlequah City Councilor Josh Allen, who is heading up TROT's efforts to bring solutions to the plight of the homeless, declared the effort a success during the first full day of being open.

"Things are going really well. This morning, we brought several of our guys from [Wings of Tahlequah] Sober Living to help. They know a lot of people that are here," Allen said. "Not only is this a great opportunity to help them, but to let them know there are even more avenues to help others. It's things like this that open the door to other things."

Dry recounted how one woman awoke the first morning, and she heard the woman ask, "What time do we get kicked out of here today?"

"I said, 'You don't.' She looked at me and said, 'You don't?' And, I said, 'You don't. You are here, and if you want to stay, you are welcome.' I told her we are here to weather the storm. She said, 'Man, I am so grateful,' and walked away," Dry said.

Debbie Glasgow has been living on the streets since her husband of 43 years passed away 10 months ago.

"You know, you kid about it, and talk between each other, 'If you go before me,' but you can't prepare for it — 43 years, you just can't prepare for it," Glasgow said.

Glasgow said the state of the economy might cause people to find themselves sleeping on the streets.

"There are people out there working full-time jobs and they still can't afford apartments," Glasgow said.

She is looking for a job and finds the services for helping folks in her situation are limited, and locked in by regulations about income.

"I've been to get help and they are very limited what can be done. You have to have an income to be helped, and I don't have an income at all," Glasgow said.

At age 66, Glasgow is finding it difficult to find work, and sleeps on the street, out in the open, every night. The shelter has been a welcome relief for the five nights she will be able to stay there.

A young man, Jason Anderson, was given a ride from Tulsa upon being released from jail after serving 2-1/2 years. With the stress of getting from Lexington, Oklahoma, to the shelter, it was a welcome relief to land in a warm place with people who cared.

"It's nice to be free and talk to people," Anderson said.

Anderson did time for arson; he set the fire when he was doing methamphetamine. Now sober and grateful to be clean, out of jail, and set up with programs to help, he explained how addiction had affected his life.

"I put my high above myself, my family, my responsibilities. I was homeless; I ran the streets," he said. "I panhandled just to get high, not to make money so I would have a place to live. Not to be successful, to help others. I just wanted to be high. It's a false feeling that hides your real feelings."

A man who was featured in a TDP series, about problems felons face upon release from jail, was at the shelter with his fiancée. Clifford Ratliff and Jacqueline Wolfe have been clean for 80 days and staying at a motel. They came to the shelter to eat and get some clothes. Wolfe said divorce and drugs landed her on the street.

"We are 80 days sober and we feel so good. Even all these obstacles we are having to go through to help ourselves, we don't want to ask for help, but we are grateful," Wolfe said.

Wolfe has found employment with Working to Recover, Assist and Prevent as an administrative assistant. Both she and Ratliff said they are grateful for the help in getting their lives back on track, with obtaining their own place and jobs.

Amanda Eckert works as a teacher at Heritage Elementary and sees first hand the devastation of being homeless on some of the children she teaches. She volunteered to help with food preparation.

"I am doing this because I know it's needed. I am a member of this church and I'm a teacher at Heritage Elementary. I know first-hand some families that are homeless. I let a couple of parents know this was going on. Some of them don't have social media. I just wanted to be able to help and be here and lend my time," Eckert said.

Learn more

The shelter will remain open until 8 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 17. For information on how to volunteer, call Pastor Dry at 918-822-1913. The shelter locks the doors at 10:30 p.m., and anyone who leaves after that time will have to wait until the next morning to return.