With predictions of record-cold temperatures in January, The Gathering Place immediately began planning for those times. How many nights could we be open during a cold spell? How could we pay for it? What were the best hours to be open, and for how many hours at a time? If we divided our open hours into shifts, would we have enough volunteers to cover those shifts during evenings and nights?

A request went out to our TGP volunteers for their availability and preference of shifts and to the faith community for financial help. We needed their support to open the warming center and serve our guests and others in need on a cold winter night. In true Gathering Place tradition, we received a resounding display of support. Then with additional funds from Maine Housing, we could offer more to our community than in previous winters.

I have gone camping with my family. I have stayed overnight in the car with my family due to travel disruptions. I wasn’t forced to remain outdoors or in my car during inclement weather. I had the means to seek indoor shelter. For our guests experiencing homelessness, there are no choices when the winter temperature drops unless we have a warming center — a welcoming, warm space to rest from the cold.

When the cold temperatures hit our doorstep in January, we were prepared to open and were most thankful for the positive response of our volunteers. We initially planned to be open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. for two nights, but could we be open for four nights? Again, shifts were readily filled with volunteers, and the last two nights, we could continue to remain open around the clock. There was sign-up for 4-hour, 8-hours and 12-hour shifts. What a fantastic response from TGP volunteers, its supervisors, its staff, and other individuals in our Brunswick community-each ever so caring of our guests!

It was heartwarming to see how our community reached out to TGP during the coldest of winter temperatures. Folks dropped off donations of casseroles, soup, baked goods, gloves, boots and blankets. Thank you to everyone who generously has and continues to reach out to support TGP’s warming center.

I remember a night last winter when we held our warming center. A couple had walked from Freeport, almost 20 miles, in the falling snow, for they had heard TGP would be open. This couple didn’t have another choice of shelter that night. We have been delighted to see several of our daytime guests come to help support our warming center staff this winter. One night, this additional support resulted in a guest struggling with significant mental health needs, getting the support they so desperately needed. They were in a crisis state, and the staff and helpers jumped into action to ensure they were safe and connected them to needed resources. This is another beautiful example of our community helping each other.

As the winter weather continues, we operate the Center when the temperature drops or the weather is difficult for our guests experiencing homelessness to maintain safety. We have had several nights with blizzard-like conditions, power outages, torrential rain, sleet, and cold. Being open is a priority for TGP, and we will continue to provide this resource to the community. If you have visited TGP, you will know we have little available indoor space, even for a Warming Center, but we make up for that with hospitality. We do not set up cots, and we don’t have the availability of showers, but we do our best to make a comfortable, safe space for people who need our help. We are in downtown Brunswick at 5 Tenney Way on the same campus as Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and Seventh Day Adventist Clothing Bank.

According to the calendar, the onset of spring is pretty close. This marks the end of hopefully dangerous winter temperatures. Still, it certainly does not ease the burden that our guests experiencing homelessness feel as they continue to navigate another season without shelter.

Judy Bauman is president of The Gathering Place board and a volunteer.

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