East Texas rescue missions overwhelmed with visitors escaping cold

KLTV - Seeking shelter from the cold

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - The arctic blast that hit East Texas has some rescue shelters bulging at the seems, with more people coming in out of the cold than they have beds to accommodate them.

The Hiway 80 Rescue Mission’s men’s and women’s shelters in Longview are filled over capacity, and winter-like temperatures have those who work at the locations expecting more to come in, and not just the homeless.

Sleeping mats have been common on the mission floors, since all beds are taken and there are still more people coming in.

“We now have people on mats, so we’re in overflow in our men’s and our women’s shelter, sleeping up to almost 260 people a night. But now this is crisis, and we’re set up to help people; we want to be that warm place for folks,” said mission director Eric Burger.

With temperatures in the 20s, overnight, many came in for safety.

"Woke up one morning it was about 30 degrees, and my feet were swollen the size of grapefruits. Risk of frostbite, hypothermia, things like that," said shelter visitor Ernest Maples.

Putting a strain on resources, it's not just homeless coming in. Travelers and others seeking to get out of the cold.

“Others are people living in homes or houses where they can’t keep the heat on, or they have no heat at al,"' said associate director Rusty Fennel. “Others just can’t afford hotels in town. You’re using more hot water more heat more food. We have more demand. The need for resources is always greater.”

Shelter workers know only too well how important it is to get people in. And the community has always come through.

“We want to make sure people are safe make sure they are out of the elements, that they get food and shelter,” Fennel said.

“Everybody’s in it like you are, try to make the best of things,” Maples said.

Donations of food and warm clothing can be accepted at any Hiway 80 Rescue Mission location.

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