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CARBONDALE — When the weather falls below freezing, some of the region’s homeless population cannot find a warm place to sleep.

A group of concerned citizens from the City of Carbondale, Carbondale Interfaith Council, Carbondale Public Library, Good Samaritan House, Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless, Jackson County Health Department, Centerstone, SIU Clinical Center and the Sparrow Coalition came together to find a solution for that population.

Patty Mullen, executive director of Good Samaritan Ministries, said the group plans to open an overnight warming center to assist in serving the homeless population, especially those living on the street.

“We are trying to find a solution for people who cannot be served at other shelters,” Mullen said.

She explained that Good Samaritan House does not allow people who have been convicted of sexual assault. Other shelters do not admit anyone convicted of a felony. Some people may have been temporarily blocked from the shelter because of behavioral issues, or they may not be comfortable at the shelter, like some homeless veterans who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“We have children at Good Samaritan House and a noisy soup kitchen,” Mullen said.

At the new nighttime warming center, people will sleep on a cot, have access to bathrooms, be supplied food and water, and of course, it will be a warm place to sleep.

“It’s going to be open to anybody who can’t be served at other shelters in Southern Illinois,” Mullen said.

She stressed this is not intended to be a permanent thing, they just want to help people. Although Good Samaritan House is usually full this time of year, Mullen said they have two beds open right now.

“Even if we run out of beds, we put people in the common area on cots. When weather dips below 32 degrees, we have eight cots,” Mullen said.

Carbondale City Councilwoman Carolin Harvey said several of the groups involved saw a need and decided to do something about it.

“Last year, Gaia House and the city used the Civic Center as a warming center overnight when temperature dropped very low,” Harvey said.

She added that the group has a tentative plan for this year. 

A trailer will be placed on city-owned property (the former location of Horizon Inn) on East Main Street, next to Hunan Restaurant, and it will be there until the end of March.

“With that trailer comes additional costs that we are trying to cover,” Harvey said.Some of the costs include getting the trailer placed and staffed with a professional, paid staff person who will work with volunteers. A new person will be hired for that position. Because the warming center will be open overnight, that person will have to work overnight.

“We will still need volunteers, also. Anyone who wants to volunteer will not be turned away,” Harvey said.

The goal is to have the warming center open the first week of January.

The group is seeking $7,500 in donations to launch the center by early January, and a total of $50,000 to sustain the center through this winter and the 2019 winter season. Donations are tax-deductible.

Donations can be made through Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless at P.O. box 955, Marion, IL 62959. Please put warming center in the memo line.

Editor's note: This story was changed to correct the location of the new warming center. 

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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