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Kingsport community pitches in to help homeless weather the brutal cold

Matthew Lane • Jan 5, 2018 at 8:18 AM

KINGSPORT — During this week of bitterly cold weather, have you stopped to think about how the homeless are dealing with single-digit temperatures?

The thought has occurred to some folks in downtown Kingsport, who have recently made an effort to help out those less fortunate, even if it’s just with a free pair of gloves, a pack of crackers or a place to warm up.

An eye-opening situation

Shortly after Thanksgiving, the employees at Blue Ridge Properties hung some hats, scarves and gloves on a railing next to their new Broad Street office in downtown Kingsport. A sign read, “Take what you need to keep warm.”

Apparently, folks took the message to heart and quickly took the items. Then something interesting happened. The community started bringing items and hanging them on the railing: coats, blankets, umbrellas, waterproof bags with crackers, toiletries and toboggans.

Colette George, BRP president, said she came out one day and saw a pizza box on top of the pillar.

“I thought someone had left some garbage there, but it turned out it had a pizza in it. The next day it was gone,” George said. “I thought people would come by after we left work, but people stop by all day long. And they don’t load up on (items). They’ll take one or two things and then go on.

“It's been a real eyeopener for me on the need, even in a town like Kingsport.”

One person brought some rolled-up blankets, 10 of which were gone in a day. It rained one day, so someone brought some umbrellas. Fifteen to 20 toboggans were taken in a day. Others have dropped off new thermal socks and coats with the tags still attached.

George said one homeless gentleman took a warmer coat, but left his old one. He said he wanted to contribute.

“The community has kept it going, and there’s more things on it all the time,” George said. “I guess we’ll keep going as long as things keep getting taken and we have things to put out there.”

A cyclone bomb

People all along the eastern seaboard are facing some of the coldest weather of the winter season this week, with temperatures dropping to the single digits or lower. Naturally, the homeless face the toughest challenge during these times as they try to stay warm while the weather works to keep them cold.

Oftentimes, the homeless pay a visit to the Kingsport Public Library, but not just when the weather turns cold. It’s a place to rest and congregate with others, plus there is access to restrooms and the Internet. However, sleeping in the library is not allowed, and all patrons have to abide by a code of conduct.

Hannah Powell, interim library manager, said the library doesn’t keep a specific count on the number of homeless patrons that come through the doors on a daily basis, but notes there has been an uptick since temperatures started dropping this week.

“We really haven’t seen a lot of problems with the homeless patrons lately,” Powell said. “We have several regulars that we routinely see and know pretty well. Unfortunately, several ... have simply fallen on hard times. For the most part, they are good patrons and they follow the rules.”

A warming station

For most of us, cold weather means we bundle up more, turn up the heat or just stay indoors. But for the homeless, they might not have that luxury.

To help out during this week of bitterly cold weather, the Shades of Grace ministry on Sullivan Street has been open 24 hours a day since Sunday and will remain so until this coming Sunday.

“We’re open every day as a warming station,” Pastor Will Shewey explains. “We kept 23 souls (Wednesday) night, 22 the night before and 21 (on Monday). Each night we’re increasing by one or two.”

The mission of Shades of Grace is to empower the lost, abandoned and misplaced people of the Kingsport area to meet Jesus Christ and to reach out to others with the message of love. Sermons are held each Sunday, and the ministry does offer GED services and clothes to those in need.

In fact, the ministry has an abundance of items, including blankets, hats, gloves and socks.

“We’ve had so much brought in that we don’t need anything. And it’s all because of the other congregations that are helping. We provide what they provide to us,” Shewey said. “We’re just blessed. We’re absolutely blessed beyond abundance.”

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