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Northeast Ohio homeless outreach groups prepare shelters, meals ahead of bitterly cold weather

The outside of the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry has brick walls with stone around the door. The glass block windows are above eyelevel, and a handicapped sign with a button for the door sits just left of the doorway. A large sign with the address, 2100, rests on the side of the building.
Tim Harrison
Ideastream Public Media
In Cleveland, the men's shelter at 2100 Lakeside Avenue in Cleveland is open for overnight stays, as is the Norma Herr women’s shelter at 2227 Payne Avenue.

With temperatures plummeting to single digits starting Friday, organizations that serve unhoused individuals in Northeast Ohio are gearing up to provide meals and a place to stay.

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) has been reaching out to the unsheltered in Cleveland this week to alert them of the upcoming inclement weather, and places where they can stay warm, said Chris Knestrick, NEOCH executive director.

“A lot of our work has been just making sure we’re connecting with people this week and preparing them with ways to get inside," Knestrick said. "For us, it just feels really urgent, and at times very scary, when we know weather’s going to be so dangerously cold outside.”

There is an overnight men’s shelter open at 2100 Lakeside Ave. and the Norma Herr women’s shelter at 2227 Payne Avenue in Cleveland, he said. They've also referred individuals to several churches that also do overnight homeless outreach, he said.

In Akron, there is one emergency overnight shelter, located at 111 East Voris Street. The Peter Maurin Center, a homeless outreach nonprofit, operates the shelter along with Summit County Continuum of Care and Community Support Services.

Workers and volunteers will provide unsheltered individuals with meals, toiletries and a place to sleep this weekend, said James Orenga, executive director of the Peter Maurin Center. Individuals do not have to be from Akron to stay there, he said.

“We don’t ask any questions. As long as they behave themselves, they’re free to stay," Orenga said.

The center has the resources to accommodate at least 50 individuals this weekend, he added. The center will be open from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. Friday through Tuesday.

Those needing transportation can ride the Metro RTA buses #11 or #13 and get off at the stop located across from the Main Post Office on Wolf Ledges Parkway.

"The beds are already made, all ready to go. The volunteers are already in place. We're ready to go," Orenga said.

There are hundreds of people experiencing homelessness in Akron, according to the most recent survey conducted by several outreach groups. Many of them live in tentsunder bridges or in remote wooded areas, Orenga said.

Every year, Orenga hears of people who get severe frostbite or even die out in the bitterly cold weather.

"You can say what you want about them - some of them have drug problems, some of them have mental problems, we know all of that - but those are the people who need our help," Orenga said. "The Peter Maurin Center's not trying to change anybody. We don't have the ability to change anybody. We're just trying to make their life a little easier for a few days."

Knestrick recalled learning of an individual that froze to death at Public Square in Cleveland last year.

"Just remembering the urgency of the moment, to make sure people have the right resources to survive," Knestrick said.

A challenge this year, Knestrick added, is that the inclement weather is coming on Christmas Eve and Christmas. Some places that typically allow people to come inside — like libraries — will be closed this weekend for these holidays, he added.

To try to meet the need, the city of Cleveland is extending the hours of several recreation centers to serve as warming centers this weekend. While the warming centers close at 10 p.m., Knestrick said NEOCH has coordinated shuttles to transport people to overnight shelters.

The Zelma George Neighborhood Resource & Recreation Center at 3155 Martin L. King Blvd. and the Michael Zone Neighborhood Resource & Recreation Center at 6301 Lorain Ave. will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday though Monday.

The Collinwood Neighborhood Resource & Recreation Center at 16300 Lakeshore Blvd and the Sterling Neighborhood Resource & Recreation Center at 1380 E. 32nd St. will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, and 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.

The city of Akron is also extending the hours of the Summit Lake Community Center to serve as a warming center. It will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Tuesday.

In Canton, there’s an overnight emergency warming shelter at the Edward Peel Coleman Community Center on 1440 Sherrick Road from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Thursday through Tuesday. The American Red Cross is providing cots, according to the city.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.