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Area warming centers give locals a temporary escape from below zero weather

Those in need received a clean pair of socks at the Refuge of Hope Ministries’ warming center Friday in Canton.
Kelly Krabill
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Ideastream Public Media
Those in need received a clean pair of socks at the Refuge of Hope Ministries’ warming center Friday in Canton.

A number of communities in Northeast Ohio opened up their recreation centers to be used as warming centers during the frigid storm that rolled in Friday. In Cleveland, where rec centers doubled as warming centers, as staff members said they wished they could do more.

The Zelma George, Collinwood, Michael J. Zone and Sterling Neighborhood Resource and Recreation Centers opened as warming centers Friday at 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. They will all reopen on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Zelma George and Michael J. Zone will reopen on Sunday and Monday from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

"We're just not equipped to be an overnight shelter, but we are here,” said Michael J. Zone rec center manager Monica Lelutiu. “They could get out of the cold during the day and they could find what they need to find later on through different resources. But we're happy to be here and be able to accommodate them."

One person using the Zone rec center to escape to the wind and snow asked Lelutiu if coffee or drinking water was available. Lelutiu said she would suggest that people requesting to make donations supply those items. She said she received several calls from people seeking to make contributions early Friday.

Lifelong Clevelander Jerry Smitt, who lives in a tent, was at the Zone center because a tree fell on this tent Friday morning. He says the warming center allowed him to stay warm while he awaits help removing the tree.

 A tree fell on the tent where Jerry Smitt lives. The warming center helped him stay warm.
Gabriel Kramer
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Ideastream Public Media
A tree fell on the tent where Jerry Smitt lives. The warming center helped him stay warm.

"It's a real tough day. If I had my tent, I wouldn't be here. But man, I'm making it. These people are helping people. That's it,” Smitt said.

Esaw Williams, a formerly unhoused man who said he spends his days seeking work, came to the Zone rec center to warm up and use a computer.

"I understand why people are coming in here getting online, watching a movie -- to take their mind off of it being so cold, to take your mind off of being so hungry, to take your mind off of your feet hurting,” Williams said.

Esaw Williams Gabriel Kramer.JPG
Gabriel Kramer
/
Ideastream Public Media
Esaw Williams is a regular at the Michael Zone rec center. He wishes more people experiences homelessness were aware of its resources.

Lelutiu said the Zone warming center could host 50-75 people while open. About 12 people were there Friday afternoon.

A number of communities in Northeast Ohio are using rec centers for warming, including Akron and Canton.

The Edward “Peel” Coleman Community Center in Canton has cots and blankets available. It was scheduled to be open from Friday at 6 p.m. through Saturday at 8 a.m. It will reopen Saturday at 4 p.m. through Monday at 8 a.m.

Refuge of Hope in Canton is not offering overnight service, but hot beverages and food are available Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday morning, about ten people arrived to warm up. Each was given a hat, socks and gloves.

The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority is offering free rides to the Canton warming centers.

Gabriel Kramer is a Filipino American journalist from Medina, Ohio. He studied journalism at Kent State University and is a proud member of the Asian American Journalists Association.