Downtown warming centers close

By Ben Watson - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Shelby County's ambitious response to the cold weather closed its doors Monday.

At the county's warming tent downtown, organizers spent the morning packing up, as the bold program aimed at helping the homeless began to close down.

"This was about the best thing that has happened to us guys on the street," said Robert Smith, who took advantage of the program.

Smith filled up on free food during his final minutes in the tent. He and hundreds of homeless people were also able to get free sleeping bags and clothing after interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford spearheaded the effort to help needy Memphians deal with freezing temperatures.

"We were concerned abut the sub zero temperatures caused by the wind chill factor and so that was just a life saving measure," said Bob Nations, Director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness.

The good news, according to volunteer staffers, is that no one died from the cold in Shelby County after the warming tents were open.  Organizers said the tents may be used again, especially if the temperatures drop like they did last week, or in cases of extreme heat."

"I mean this should be here all time," Smith said. "I mean this is great."

So many people showed up that officials had to set up an additional tent.  Some wondered what will happen to the homeless now that the tents are being removed.

"What's going to happen?  Where are they going to go?  You know, the Union Mission can only help so many people," said Thomas Wimbush, who spent time in the tent.

If you or someone you know still needs shelter from the cold, call 901-260-4663.  For cold weather questions, call 901-515-2525.

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