OTTAWA COUNTY, Okla. – 70-year-old Miami resident Dale Garrett was able to enjoy a meal in a warm environment on Monday. A simple thing, but something that’s getting harder and harder as the temperatures drop to below zero.
“If it wasn’t for this being open, there’d be a lot of people froze to death,” says Garrett.
Garrett is homeless, and says that if it wasn’t for the new emergency shelter at New Hope Christian Church in Miami — he and a lot of others would be in a really bad way.
“They’ve done a great job. I don’t have a complaint one,” says Garrett.
Miami native Toney Holden says that before the shelter was open, several hotels gave away rooms to residents in need. He also rented an entire hotel block — but all of them filled up quickly, showing that the need was dire.
Holden explains there used to be a homeless shelter in Miami, but there isn’t anymore.
“I sent out a Facebook request to set up a church, and Judy called within two hours and had this place set up,” says Holden.
“We have a core group of people who stood up and said, ‘I will be there to help. I’ll cook and I’ll do whatever we have to do. What do you need us to do?” says Mack Freeman, a volunteer and member of New Hope Christian Church.
Since the church opened the shelter on Friday, February 12th, they’ve seen close to 30 people come in, and not all of them are homeless. Many are residents who don’t have any water, heat or electricity.
Freeman explains that when they opened the shelter, they started with five gallons of soup and a pound of bacon. Now they have cots that were donated from the Salvation Army, dozens of blankets, gloves and hats for people to take, and more food than they know what to do with. All of it was donated from people, restaurants and other churches in the community.
“It’s just been overwhelming,” says Freeman. “We’re just amazed at the response.”
Now that they have the shelter, Holden and several other people, including Mayor Bless Parker, have been trying to get the word out.
Several people spent Monday afternoon driving around the county asking to take people without heat to the shelter — and taking supplies to those who can’t leave their homes.
“We’re not used to the weather that’s coming in… and people could die tonight. So we need the community to come together,” says Holden. “It’s a really bad time right now for a lot of people that can’t afford their electric… a lot of people on the streets, you know. But no one deserves to suffer. And thank God for this church for setting this up.”
Freeman says that the church will have the emergency shelter open for as long as the winter storm keeps hitting the area. Members of the church and Mayor Parker are working on a plan to store the equipment, so they will be ready for the next time there’s an emergency in the county.