Winter testing North Texas shelters like never before

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on February 11, 2014 at 11:03 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 12 at 12:37 PM

FORT WORTH — There have been few winters like this one, when the cold is so brutal and so enduring it just can't be survived on the streets.

"Those that live on the edges of homelessness; those that would rather live outside or live in a car; it's too cold for them, and they are coming inside," said Toby Owen, CEO of Presbyterian Night Shelter, the largest homeless shelter in Tarrant County.

During the week of the 2011 Super Bowl, Owen said the shelter was at capacity for four straight days.

Then came the winter of 2013-14.

"Our capacity is 645; that's 645 beds. And we have been at that level almost every night for the last three months," he said. "We have turned people away."

Every other shelter in North Texas faces a similar heartbreaking problem.

Karen Deaton is one of the clients grateful to have escaped the streets.

"I can't handle the cold. I've got arthritis and it's horrible," she said,.

Owen said the greatest increase he has seen is in the number of women and children in need of help. Over the last four years, Presbyterian Night Shelter has recorded a 51.6 percent increase in the number of children they being cared for.

Shauna Dockery, 56, said a medical crisis led her to the shelter, after she realized that living in her car was too cold, too dangerous, and too expensive.

"I had a little two-door Nissan and I stayed in that for a while," she said. "But when you come in here you get a nice hot shower, a warm bed, and some warm smiles."

Dockery added that she is grateful the staff never judged her for her situation.

Owen said this winter has stretched his shelter's resources, forcing them to add staff and ask some loyal donors for additional help.

"Like always, the number one need is financial support," he said.

Owen added there is a constant need for toiletries, towels, sheets, and even coats and jackets.

"We just had a lady come in from Phoenix today. She's new to the shelter and didn't even have a jacket," he said.

"Thank the Lord there are places like this," Owen said of his shelter and others like it. "We have a great support base of donors in this city that really help in time of need. There's always hope."

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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