This winter has been a brutal one in southeastern Michigan. Local sites, including churches, offer warming centers to help the homeless population.

This winter has been a brutal one in southeastern Michigan. Local sites, including churches, offer warming centers to help the homeless population.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

How to help the homeless in a cold winter

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published January 10, 2018

FERNDALE/OAKLAND COUNTY — Temperatures in southeastern Michigan in the last week have hit as low as zero degrees, making a trip outside feel more like a visit to the Arctic.

But while most people have the ability to stay inside a heated home, there are many people who are living on the streets during the most frigid days.

On any weekday, people who are homeless may use the Kulick Community Center, 1201 Livernois St. in Ferndale, as a warming center during regular business hours, which are from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

“We’re just a place to be warm. We don’t have, like, beds or anything like that. So it’s different than a shelter,” Ferndale City Manager April Lynch said.

She said that when there’s a cold advisory from the National Weather Service, the city will extend the hours at the center on Saturdays and open on Sundays to act as a warming center.

“We’ll typically do, like, again, a (10 a.m. to 8 p.m.) or (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.). It just depends on what the weather looks like,” she said.

Churches throughout south Oakland County act as warming centers as well during the winter. Up until Jan. 21, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Royal Oak, 730 S. Lafayette Ave., will act as a warming center. From Jan. 21 to Feb. 4, it will be Genesis: The Church, 309 N. Main St. in Royal Oak, followed by Starr Presbyterian Church, 1717 13 Mile Road in Royal Oak, from Feb. 4 to 11. And from Feb 11 to 25, the warming center location will be Berkley Community Church, 2855 Wiltshire Road in Berkley.

The hours will be from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Sundays through Saturdays. Guests are asked not to arrive before 7 p.m., and if they arrive after 9 p.m., they must show proof of late hours employment. Beds and food are not provided at the warming centers.

Ferndale Police Sgt. Baron Brown said homeless people in the cold weather are something police have always dealt with, and they try to do whatever they can to help them out, such as directing them to the churches that are acting as warming centers.

“We do what we can,” he said. “We don’t often get asked by homeless people that we deal with on a regular basis for help like that. It’s more often our residents or passer-bys seeking out help for those people based on the way they feel about seeing someone standing out there.”

Brown said he always gives the message to the homeless population that if they need something, they should stop an officer and ask for help, and they’ll do what they can.

“There’s only so much we can do,” he said. “But if you’re in danger of freezing to death, we definitely want you to stop an officer and we’ll figure out what we can do.”

Brown also said that if people have an extra set of gloves, a winter coat or a hat, and they see somebody in need, stop them and ask them if they’d like it. 

“A lot of times people will do just that, and we’ve seen it where they’ll stop and give them a coat or a blanket,” he said.

But he cautions that people should not bring couches and beds, which he said happens “all the time.” 

“Giving a person a couch that they can keep out on the street is kind of useless for them. They can’t take it with them. They don’t have anywhere to put it. It just ends up getting picked up by the city or the state as garbage,” Brown said.