Freeze Warning has homeless shelter making adjustments

Freeze Warning has homeless shelter making adjustments
Freeze Warning has homeless shelter making adjustments

PIMA COUNTY, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Inside the climate-controlled chapel, with football as the evening entertainment, Steve Michaelis was thankful on this Sunday night.

He knows of the alternative.

"God bless it. It's a blessing from God. To be able to come in. Anybody that helps somebody like that. They're out there with nothing," he said.

They, other transient people in Tucson, are out there in dangerous conditions.

A Freeze Warning is in effect overnight, from 1:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 21, in much of southern Arizona. The National Weather Service issued the warning in the Tohono O'odham Nation-Tucson Metro Area, South Central Pinal County, and the cities of Sells, Tucson, Green Valley, Marana, Vail, and Picacho Peak State Park.

It's why the beds at the Gospel Rescue Mission, where Michaelis is staying overnight, are life-saving.

"When that happens we basically open the doors for more people to come in," said Victor Hightower, the Public Relations and Outreach Coordinator for the Gospel Rescue Mission.

How many people they let in is the issue, though.

The City of South Tucson told the mission's men's center, located at 312 W. 28th Street, in March of 2017, that they would have to cut down the maximum number of beds in the facility and wouldn't be allowed to set up beds in the common chapel area.

Hightower said they were told the number of people allowed to sleep overnight in the shelter on any given night was reduced from about 106 to 55. It was an order from the South Tucson Fire Department to get the shelter to comply with the National Fire Safety Code.

But on freezing nights, when Operation Deep Freeze is in effect, the city manager told Hightower that those restrictions are lifted.

"It's the right thing to do and they recognize that," Hightower said.

The right thing to make sure Michaelis doesn't have to fight the elements.

"You're cold. You've got people moving you out of one place. You have to go to another place," Michaelis said. "It's trying at times."

And the right thing to keep Michaelis alive.

"If you imagine sleeping out under a wash, it d rops below 40, it's raining and it's windy, it can really get chilly to the bones," Hightower explained. "We want people to be safe. First and foremost, we want people to be safe."

He said they had 16 people check in during their normal afternoon check-in time and maximum capacity on Jan. 21 was 30 people. But Hightower said that with the overnight freeze warning, and Operation Deep Freeze in effect, they will not likely be turning anyone away.

"We've got the staff on hand to take care of it."

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