Home Environment Cold Weather Sheltering Plan Sees Early Success

Cold Weather Sheltering Plan Sees Early Success

An ECAT bus transports individuals to shelter during recent extreme cold weather.

A cold weather sheltering plan established through a partnership between Escambia County and Waterfront Rescue Mission is seeing early success after several cold weather events this winter, sheltering hundreds of people from frigid temperatures in Escambia County.

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Escambia County and Waterfront Rescue Mission worked together last year to implement a more consistent cold weather sheltering plan for the community, providing free shelter options for men, women and children to stay during cold weather events.

With temperatures this month dropping into the 20s and teens, Waterfront has seen an influx of people in need of shelter in the Escambia County area. Thanks to the partnership with the county and other agencies including ReEntry Alliance Pensacola, Waterfront Rescue Mission was able to accommodate as many as 155 people in a single night, with many more taking shelter during the day.

“Our goal is always to provide shelter from the cold to anyone in our community who needs it, and I am proud to say that we are accomplishing that goal through this incredible partnership,” Escambia County Emergency Manager Travis Tompkins said. “We appreciate Waterfront, REAP, ECAT, My Father’s Vineyard and all of our partner agencies for their dedication to serving our community, and for working together to make shelter space available to protect people who are seeking relief from extreme cold weather.”  

Through the sheltering plan, Waterfront Rescue Mission is the central receiving point for anyone in need of emergency shelter when the temperature drops to 40 degrees or less. Waterfront then coordinates with other partner agencies to ensure anyone needing cold weather shelter can be accommodated.

Waterfront Rescue Mission relaxes some of their normal rules during declared weather events, allowing men to stay at no charge, along with women and children if no other accommodation can be arranged.

“We’re prepared for those contingencies,” said Mark Isbell, Executive Director for PR and Development at Waterfront Rescue Mission, which normally operates as a men’s shelter. “We will allow women to come in even if they have to stay the night. We try to get them to another shelter, but if we can’t, we will let them stay so they’re safe. At that point, it’s basically anyone who needs to get out of the cold can come out of the cold.”

Waterfront Rescue Mission also operates as a Day Resource Center Monday-Friday under normal circumstances, but it stays open 24 hours a day during cold weather events to serve as a warming center for anyone who needs to get out of the cold.  

My Father’s Vineyard church on Highway 29 also opened their doors as a cold weather shelter for the first time during cold weather last week, providing overnight shelter starting Sunday, Jan. 14.

With the new church shelter opening, Escambia County Emergency Management coordinated with Escambia County Area Transit to provide free transportation between My Father’s Vineyard and Waterfront Rescue Mission. The free transportation on ECAT allowed those seeking shelter to easily travel between the overnight shelter at the church and the designated warming center at Waterfront Rescue.

ECAT transported 383 passengers between the two shelters from Jan. 16 through Jan. 22, including 17 passengers in wheelchairs. Escambia County Mass Transit Director Rodriques Kimbrough said he and the ECAT team are always proud to give back to the community by providing transportation during extreme cold weather situations like this.

“Our bus operators and transportation supervisors work diligently to ensure that we can provide this service in addition to meeting the needs of citizens who rely on our fixed route service every day,” Kimbrough said. “I appreciate the bus operators who volunteered to work extra shifts to make this possible, sometimes on the weekends or on their day off, and I’m proud of our ECAT team for always providing exemplary service to Escambia County citizens.”

Representatives from Escambia County and Waterfront agreed that the recent extreme cold weather highlighted the success of the new cold weather sheltering plan, particularly the collaboration between Escambia County and community partners.

“The fact that we sat down as a community and made a plan, we’re seeing the fruition this week, and I think it’s only going to get better,” Isbell said. “What made it the most successful is that when we asked for help, people responded – whether it was ECAT, Emergency Management, shelter, or volunteers – people responded. When we set personal agendas aside and work together, we can make it happen.”

With the high volume of traffic over the past week, Isbell said Waterfront is in need of food donations to replenish their pantry. Individuals or restaurants interested in donating may contact him at misbell@waterfrontmission.org to coordinate donations.

Escambia County shares information about cold weather shelter openings on the MyEscambia.com website and county social media channels including the Escambia County Emergency Management Facebook page. To sign up to receive email alerts from Escambia County, visit MyEscambia.com and click the “subscribe” icon.