After a stretch of mild weather to begin December, the true bite of another New England winter seems to be clamping down upon us. According to Weather.com, through Jan 5 it is estimated the highest temperature will be 29 degrees on Thursday, Jan 4, and lows on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are estimated to be at 1 and 0 degrees respectively.
Needless to say, staying warm throughout these bitter days ahead will be a matter of survival for those who are out of doors this winter, or those struggling to pay their heating bills or perhaps have a malfunctioning heating system.
Those looking to get the chill out throughout the day in Warwick may go to designated “warming centers” at the Warwick Public Library (600 Sandy Lane, open Mon-Thurs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fri-Sat from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sundays from 1-5 p.m.) and the Pilgrim Senior Center (27 Pilgrim Parkway, open Mon-Fri from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.).
“We are open for people who otherwise don’t have a place to stay and be warm, and they can sit in the lounge area and be comfortable and warm,” said Meg Underwood, director of senior services at the Pilgrim Senior Center. “But hopefully there won’t be too many people who need to come in. Nobody should be without a warm place to go.”
For a full list of places in Rhode Island that are being utilized as warming centers, visit www.riema.ri.gov/warmingcenters.
Help for those out of doors
Unfortunately, some may be experiencing even more difficult times and may have to rely on temporary shelter services to get through the dangerously cold nights ahead - where the possibility of frostbite is more of a certainty should skin be exposed to the elements for extended periods of time.
The House of Hope is a multifaceted organization headquartered at 3194 Post Road in Warwick, whose mission is to provide a structured pathway towards a better life for those who find themselves homeless. During the winter months, they also ramp up efforts to identify and help homeless and at-risk individuals throughout Rhode Island to get them into safe and warm locations during the night.
They have a 5-member outreach team that takes to bridges, alleyways and known campsites around Providence, Warwick, West Warwick and Pawtucket to identify homeless individuals and shuttle them to shelters or at least provide them with winter clothing such as coats, socks, hats, gloves or scarves. They have already been at work for weeks, knowing that the worst of the weather would soon be arriving.
The House of Hope operates an emergency overnight cold shelter in the basement of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pawtucket. It has 15 beds, but executive director Laura Jaworski said that they can expand that number within the limits of adhering to the fire code.
“This is a critical time, and I’d much rather be able to say yes to someone and ensure that they are inside and safe and warm as it gets colder,” she said, adding that the shelter helped keep 120 people out of the elements last winter.
Additionally, House of Hope operates a walk-in access office in Pawtucket which can refer people to other shelters and services. It is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 185 Dexter St., and can be reached by phone at 401-726-2422. They are always in need of donations to give to those on the streets. Items such as coats, hats, gloves, socks and scarves are always accepted, and can be dropped off at their Post Road headquarters.
Between the St. Paul’s Church and the walk-in center, House of Hope served 1,099 homeless individuals last fiscal year. Jaworski said that, while the method used to assess the number of homeless individuals on the street at any given time is limited at best, as they only count during one day of the year, the House of Hope estimates that as many as 4,500 people in Rhode Island are homeless throughout the year.
“On any given night we know that it's about 1,180 in shelters or sleeping outdoors,” she said. “Those are our best guess and estimates.”
For those experiencing housing uncertainty, food insecurity, homelessness or those who perhaps just need a little help to get through the winter, it is recommended they reach out to the House of Hope (401-463-3324), West Bay Community Action (401-732-4660) or the Rhode Island United Way by dialing 2-1-1. Crossroads of Providence may also be able to help (401-521-2255).
For help heating a home
If you are of low income and are unable to afford adequate heating for your home, Westbay Community Action in Warwick has funding available to help pay for your heating bills to keep warm this winter through two programs - the Good Neighbor Energy program and the RIHEAP Heating Assistance. For details on how to apply or to see if you are eligible, go to www.westbaycap.org/programs.
Additionally, Westbay also has a program for performing heating replacement services to those who qualify. For example, if a boiler or hot water heater is broken down and you are unable to afford repairs, you may be able to receive assistance to have it fixed or replaced within 24 to 48 hours.
In general, you can do a lot to help somebody who you may feel is at risk of suffering the effects of cold weather this winter by simply extending a little human kindness towards them, and finding out if they need some form of assistance.
“I think it's important to say that, if you see anybody in need or worried about someone; if you see someone that's outside, check in with them and ask if they're okay, if they have a safe place to go,” said Jaworski. “It doesn’t mean someone has to put them in their car or take them in…[Helping] begins with that conversation and checking in and asking if someone is okay and safe.”