The Way I See It: The Polar Vortex and Local Warming Centers

Categories:      Opinion    Community
Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 at 7:03 AM

By the time you’re reading this, nearly half the nation – 140 million people – will be shivering in temperatures of zero or below. Parts of the Midwest and Northeast (read: Erie) could be experiencing glacial temperatures that have not been recorded in the last 15 to 20 years.

Severely cold temperature drops make it dangerous for anyone to be out braving the elements, if even to walk to get the mail or from a warm car to a warm grocery store. But what about those who don’t have a warm place to go?

In 2013, Erie County's unsheltered homeless population – those who sleep in tents or on the streets instead of staying overnight in shelters – had quadrupled since 2012 - 160 unsheltered homeless people were recorded – and some of these were children. In 2012, this number was 46.

While there are a handful of organizations that provide individuals with a temporary stay, known as a “warming center,” these organizations rely on volunteers and personal donations to keep them afloat. In case you didn’t know, warming centers are places where men, women, and families who are homeless or otherwise unable to have shelter can go to for the night or for a short stay. Unlike homeless shelters, which provide a temporary residence, a place to sleep, and assistance, warming centers do not have beds, but instead are places to come in and get warm, have something to eat, have someone to talk to – but above all: to be safe from the elements.

These facilities look for gently used clothing, toys, blankets, amongst other general items as well as (and most importantly) monetary donations to keep their doors open. In the last few years, individuals and organizations have taken notice of the need throughout Erie and have started to offer those in hardship a place of respite. Below are a list of them and their contact information if you want to help:

Mental Health Association of Northwestern Pennsylvania (MHA), located at 1101 Peach St.

Hours: 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

MHA opens its facility when temperatures drop to 25 degrees or lower. The warming center can accommodate up to 40 people. The center has been open for 20 nights this winter. MHA has a printable wish list of needed items on their website. Go to:

The Upper Room, a local daytime homeless shelter is located at St. Paul's United Church of Christ, South Entrance, 1024 Peach St.

Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday & Sunday 12:30 to 4 p.m.

This organization also serves a free breakfast on weekdays at 7:30 a.m.

Go to: or call 459.3983 for more information.

Mobile Overnight Shelters

Hours: 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Russian Orthodox Church of the Nativity of Christ hosts a mobile overnight overflow homeless shelter. The shelter rotates among Erie churches and is currently at First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, 250 W. Seventh St. (through Jan. 14.)

At Church of the Nativity, volunteers work one of three shelter shifts: 7 to 11 p.m., 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., or 3 to 7 a.m. An informational meeting on how to volunteer will be held Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. at the church's community center, 109 German St., for people who would like to help. More information is available by calling 459.8515 or emailing

As many of you already know, Erie has sadly earned the No. 1 spot for total amount of snowfall this year – by several inches as of my deadline. We have all experienced how cold and bitter this winter has already been and will most likely continue to be. Hopefully, right now, you’re reading this from your favorite coffee shop or bar, or right in the comfort of your home – and if so, consider yourself lucky.

Now is the time to get involved. I understand that this may just be band-aiding the topic and that there needs to be long-term solutions to address what is a prevalent and serious issue in Erie. However, it is something that various organizations throughout the county are working on.

In this moment, though, we should focus on the short-term ramifications of the elements, because Mother Nature is leaving us no other choice. Even the smallest donation can provide great comfort to those who need a safe haven from winter’s biting cold – so that we can continue to help those individuals in need and to address the pressing needs of poverty in the long run.

Love? Hate? Agree? Disagree? I want to hear from you. Email me at, and follow me on Twitter @rStyn.

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