Warming shelter provides meal, rest (w/video)

Jessica  Rodrigo By Jessica Rodrigo

Feb. 5, 2014 at 11 p.m.
Updated Feb. 4, 2014 at 8:05 p.m.

Lucas Garcia, 30, of Victoria, sits on a cot at an emergency shelter at the Pine Street Community Center in Victoria. "Thank God for this place," Garcia said. "I wouldn't have had anywhere to go tonight."

Lucas Garcia, 30, of Victoria, sits on a cot at an emergency shelter at the Pine Street Community Center in Victoria. "Thank God for this place," Garcia said. "I wouldn't have had anywhere to go tonight."

Having a place to sleep brought Lucas Garcia more than warmth and comfort.

It lifted a heavy burden.

"I chose to be here because it's more comfortable here," he said about the emergency warming shelter at Pine Street Community Center. "It gets a little off my chest."

Garcia was one of more than 10 people Wednesday night who came to the shelter for refuge from what the National Weather Service predicted to be an overnight wind chill in the upper 20s.

The shelter was an effort by several community organizations to provide the homeless with a temporary place to stay when temperatures drop into the 30s or lower.

Margot Porterfield of Mid-Coast Family Services was there to help set up the center for the guests.

"I'm glad we have the opportunity to do this," she said.

Mid-Coast had recently spent more than $4,400 renting hotel rooms to accommodate the homeless during cold fronts.

The emergency warming shelter has given the nonprofit a chance to save money, she said, as well as a chance for the community to be there for those who have nowhere to go.

When Garcia, 30, lost his dad - his best friend - he bounced between living with family members and friends while he dealt with drugs, gangs and depression. Eventually, he hit a low point and found himself without a home, a job or anyone to turn to.

For the past two years, he's struggled on the streets, and finally, Wednesday night, he decided that he would get away from the struggle.

Two wall units heated one of the Pine Street Community Center rooms to warm temperatures that melted away Garcia's worries about where he would sleep.

About 20 foldable metal cots lined the room. On each cot, a sleeping bag lay rolled up, waiting to be filled by a homeless man or woman. Garcia claimed a cot against the wall opposite the door.

He sat with his legs crossed at the ankles, and a plate of pepperoni pizza and salad topped with ranch dressing rested on his lap. The food, donated by Grace Lutheran Church and the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent, was sure to ease his mind of where he would get a bite to eat.

Carol Ayala came by after work to volunteer at the shelter alongside volunteers from Mid-Coast Family Services, Restoration House, Gulf Bend Center and other groups.

"There are a lot of homeless people who need us to be there for them," she said.

Ayala helped the homeless sign a short agreement as they checked into the temporary shelter. The agreement was simple: no violence, no weapons, no drugs or alcohol and no theft.

The peace of mind Garcia gets from knowing he has a place to stay for two nights is a step in the right direction, he said. He plans to find a job and get back to where he was about two years ago. He had a place of his own. He had a job at Popeyes, and he was doing all right.

"It's so easy to do bad," Garcia said. "But it's so hard to do good."

Until he gets a steady job, he'll work side jobs if he can: carpentry in Edna, striping and waxing floors at Wal-Mart or putting up sheet rock at construction jobs.

Unlike some of the homeless population, he doesn't have any source of income.

Victor Sawyer, 65, is homeless but said he receives a Social Security and retirement check for about $700 a month.

"It's not enough for an apartment," he said. "But it keeps me somewhat afloat."

He spends his days mostly bored but keeps reading material tucked in his backpack. Before he got up for a piece of cheese pizza, salad and a small cluster of green grapes, he had opened a new book to read: "Seabiscuit."

"It's a great piece of history," he said.

Sawyer has been homeless for about 50 years since his parents abandoned him. He's never without his backpack because it has everything he needs. He said he would stuff a mattress in there if he could, but he'll settle for what he's got.

On nights when the shelter isn't available, Sawyer sleeps in a broken car near Christ's Kitchen. He can't sleep at the parks because he said the police won't allow it. He appreciates the chance to lay out for a night.

"I can't stretch my legs in the car," he said with a chuckle.

In the morning, Sawyer will head back to the car and wait out the day until he can return Thursday night to warm up, eat dinner and read his book.

For Garcia, when the Pine Street Community Center relinquishes its temporary identity as a emergency warming center, he'll be back on the street, where he said it isn't safe.

"I'm getting tired of living like this," he said. "I miss my old life."



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