COVINGTON, Ky. - After a rough day on the streets, in the bitter cold, there is at least one place that the homeless can come to and leave refreshed.
They walk in and are greeted by Rachael Winters . They have found a place that they can come in from out of the cold. A warm, clean, safe place to sleep. That’s Winters' primary goal for her guests.
“If they recover [from homelessness] that’s icing,” said the shelter operations manager of her secondary goal.
It doesn’t matter the time or day. It doesn’t matter the weather or the temperature. It doesn’t matter if the guest is mentally ill, an alcoholic or high on drugs. The answer is always the same from Winters. “We have room tonight. We have plenty of room.”
The Emergency Cold Shelter of Northern Kentucky occupies a storefront that is easily overlooked and seldom talked about in Covington.
Winters, ironically named, said it’s the only emergency shelter open through March, no matter the temperature.
(To hear Winters' story and the stories of her homeless guests, click on their photos to the right.)
It’s a chilly, rainy November evening. Already 25 of the shelter’s 32 beds are filled. Winters expects a few more before the night is over.
When you walk through the commercial double doors, formerly home to the health department, the overwhelming fragrance of freshly washed laundry drying fills the hallway. It’s guests’ laundry.
“Rain is sometimes worse than the cold,” Winters said of the men and women who walk through the door soaking wet. She offers a shower, clothing, and a hot cup of Joe.
The doors open at 7 p.m. nightly. And to many of its diverse guests, the shelter, which opened in November 2008, feels like home.
It’s home to men, women, young, old, black, white, newly and chronically homeless.
The daily itinerary is posted in plain sight for guests to review. It tells when dinner is, what time the nightly movie will start, what time is lights out, etc. Guests are offered weekly health checks from nurses, clean clothes, coats, breakfast in the morning, and a clean, freshly made bed.
Tomorrow’s breakfast, Winters said, will be mini muffins and fruit salad, which was donated. She reaches out to the community via Facebook for food, she said. And within a matter of hours, days, she said, their pantry is restocked.
“We have the community support,” said Winters, who as she walks down the hallway, greets her guests by name, asking them if they need anything. From that community, she also has 22 volunteers who help her run the shelter.
There is an entire room dedicated to clothing, shoes, soap, toothpaste and shampoo. Each guest is given a hygiene kit, which includes a clean, dry pair of socks—especially important on a cold, wet night. On the really cold nights, Winters said, coats are given to those who do not have one—in hopes of keeping them warm once they leave the shelter in the morning.
Just next to the supply room, there is an emergency room for those who are discharged from St. Elizabeth and bussed or taxied over to the shelter for the night to recover in a warm bed and plenty of covers.
Police from Newport and Independence have also brought guests to the shelter on occasion, said Winters. This evening is no exception. Winters receives a phone call from an employee of the Speedway in Erlanger. The woman on the other line describes a 19-year-old woman who came into the gas station with no money and no where to go. The workers thought she could use a place to stay out of the rain. Winters calls the Erlanger Police, who agree to pick the young woman up and bring her to the shelter.
“I’ve learned to expect goodness from people,” said Winters. “We have plenty of room,” she tells the police sergeant at the other end of the line. She reminds him that they are always open for him to bring those in need to the shelter.
Listen to their stories, click on the images to the upper right to hear their own words. See their faces, click on the image below to view the guests of the Emergency Cold Shelter of Northern Kentucky.
They were making it, but more importantly, they were together. But since his wife passed away, the only thing he knows for sure is that the hardship of homelessness is nothing compared to the heartbreak of a love lost.
They walk in in droves and are greeted by Rachael Winters. She gives them a place that they can come in from out of the cold.
Once at the top of his game, Les, the father of two, finds himself in poor health and homeless after addiction takes control of him.
The streets are a new, uncomfortable living space for the couple who hates taking hand-outs. But they are sticking together and figuring out how to make ends meet.