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January 23, 2013

Light House Mission sees extra people seeking shelter

TERRE HAUTE — As word of plummeting temperatures spread through the Wabash Valley early this week, members of the homeless community sought shelter in Terre Haute.

“With this cold weather, we always see an increase in people,” said Bonnie Wallace, director of the Light House Mission. “The advertising of it was a good forewarning.”

Eight people sought shelter at the mission on Sunday to avoid the freezing weather, Wallace said, but no additional people showed up Monday night as temperatures dipped into single digits. She figured that they all came in early. Those eight people includes single men, as well as families with children, taking the census close to 100 people sheltered.

Wallace told the Tribune-Star that she expects some of the transient population will leave as soon as the temperatures rise, when it is not so uncomfortable to sleep outdoors or in shelters without heat.

“I’ve heard stories of single mothers with children trying to heat their home with an open oven,” Wallace said. “They’ll hang blankets and confine themselves to one room to stay warm. The cold drives them into a place like this where they don’t have to be in a cold house without heat.”

Mission resident Bill Wilson agreed that many people will come to the shelter during the cold weather, but will leave once they feel they can make it on their own.

Wilson said he has lived at the shelter off and on for about 11 years.

“I was gone for a while, and I came back,” he said. “I tried something new and it didn’t work, so I came back.”

Wilson said that like most people who seek shelter at the mission, he did not want to be there at first. But after he started participating in the programs and working, he felt better about being in a stable environment.

“I’m glad I’m not outside now,” Wilson said on Tuesday, as temperatures rose only to a high of 18 after an overnight low of 6.Wallace said the mission can always use donations of blankets, sheets, pillows, clothing and monetary gifts.

As the resident count goes up, so does the cost for food, heat and water, she said.

The mission serves three meals every day, but is the only soup kitchen in the city to serve supper.

Unfortunately, as the shelter needs rise in January and February, that is also usually the season of diminished giving by the public. She calls it the Christmas recovery, when people try to economically recover and pay bills from the holidays, so the donations to the mission decline for a while.

The mission also benefits from volunteers who help with programs and services to the residents. In 2012, more than 10,000 volunteer hours were logged at the mission.

Anyone wanting to assist the homeless, can contact the mission by calling 812-232-7001.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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