The Sheltering Tree, Flagler County’s only cold-weather shelter for the homeless and others in need, is seeking donations. You may send tax-deductible donations by mail to The Sheltering Tree, P.O. Box 1219, Bunnell, FL 32110, or through direct donations to the Sheltering Tree, using this link. The Sheltering Tree can be reached at 386-437-3258.
Flagler County’s all-volunteer organization that runs the county’s only cold-weather shelter is facing a steep staffing challenge this week as the National Weather Service is warning of an unusually long, bitter cold spell starting Friday night and coinciding with the Christmas weekend, when many shelter volunteers are away, visiting family. The shelter is planning to open four nights in a row.
“A very cold airmass will funnel across southeast Georgia and northeast Florida this upcoming holiday weekend with inland hard freezes, coastal freezes and wind chill advisories likely Friday night, Saturday night and potentially Sunday night,” the National Weather Service said in an advisory this afternoon. The freezes will send overnight temperatures into the low 20s with a potential for upper teens in some places, and nightly subfreezing temperatures stretching for 10 to 16 hours inland and eight to 12 hours along the coast. Highs will only be in the 40s.
The shelter, run by the Sheltering Tree, a non-profit, opens at Church on the Rock in Bunnell only when the overnight temperature is expected to fall to 40 or below. It has not yet opened this year, making it the first time in memory that the shelter had not needed to open at any point in November, or this far into December.
It will open nightly from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. starting Friday (Dec. 23).
“Our biggest concern would be the safety and well being of people that are homeless,” Martin Collins, a Sheltering Tree board member, said Monday evening. “Our biggest logistical concern would be recruiting enough people for four days in a row. That’s really unusual, and particularly difficult because of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and people being away visiting family. Manning four straight nights is always difficult, but doing it at this time of year is even more difficult.”
The Sheltering Tree’s volunteers pay for, prepare and serve a hot dinner and a hot breakfast for the guests each night the shelter is open, set up and breakdown the guests’ night accommodations and provide supervision. They serve up to 30 guests per night. Since running the shelter is an elaborate operation, the volunteers operate in teams: two people set up the shelter, two are assigned for admissions, two run the shelter from 6 to 10 p.m., a team of four prepares the evening meal and the morning meal, a team of two oversees the night hours. There’s some fluidity between teams, but ultimately each night requires eight volunteers, or 32 volunteer shifts for the coming cold spell. That just exceeds the pool of 30 the organization usually pulls from, so help will be needed.
Collins says the first three nights appear to have good coverage, but additional volunteers are sought.
There is usually ample space at Church on the Rock. But now that the cold spell is coinciding with Christmas and other activities, space will be reduced. There’s an AA meeting the first night, then a long Christmas Eve event the second night.
The organization relies entirely on grants and modest aid from county government and Flagler’s three municipalities, which together provide a combined subsidy of $1,000 per night that the shelter is open, for up to 24 nights. “The contribution will cover the costs of utilizing the church space, security, utilities, meals, and other costs of providing the shelter services,” the agreement with the county reads, though the money helps defray the cost more than cover it all.
The church also gets an additional $3,400 a month to give the county a place to serve meals for the elderly, but that’s an entirely separate arrangement between the county and the church.
The cold-weather shelter used to be located at Bunnell’s First Methodist Church until the city, facing occasional if not always well-founded complaints rom neighbors of the church, invoked zoning regulations to end the shelter’s long tenure there. The county was able to negotiate the arrangement with church on the Rock. The Sheltering Tree continues to run services for the homeless and others facing difficulties out of facilities at the Methodist Church every Tuesday. Volunteers provide bicycle repair, food, clothing, and, increasingly, help paying utility bills as skyrocketing rents have added stresses on those on the edge of homelessness.
On Tuesday, the volunteers will inform their clientele that the shelter will be open at the end of the week. Word of mouth will travel. So will two county bus routes that pick up those who need to stay at the shelter. The same buses drops off the individuals the next day. The guests must leave the shelter by 8 a.m. The routes and schedules, based on last year’s service, were as follows:
- Dollar General at Publix Town Center, 3:30
- Near the McDonald’s at Old Kings Road South and State Road 100, 4 p.m.
- Dollar Tree by Carrabas and Walmart, 4:30 p.m.
- Palm Coast Main Branch Library, 4:45 p.m.
- Dollar General at County Road 305 and Canal Avenue in Daytona North.
- Bunnell Free Clinic, 4:30 p.m.
- First United Methodist Church in Bunnell, 4:30 p.m.
The shelter used to welcome individuals from Volusia County, but no longer. “We used to take overflow from Daytona, but they built that big shelter there now,” Collins said.
The Sheltering Tree (its official name is the Flagler County Family Assistance Center) continues to be in need not only of volunteers, but of other contributions–goods and money. The organization is underscoring the need for warm clothing, sleeping bags, tents, bicycles and non-perishable food that has a long shelf life. See a more complete list of needs here.
Monetary donations, which are tax-deductible, are also welcome, at The Sheltering Tree, P.O. Box 1219, Bunnell, FL: 32110, or through direct donations to the Sheltering Tree, using this link.
“I continue to emphasize how immoral it is that we have an animal shelter open 365 days of the year but we only have a human shelter that’s open only a few nights of the year,” Collins said, “and the needs are much greater out there now because of the exorbitant rent.” Collins decried the stereotype that continues to attach to the homeless, when in fact many may be paying the consequences of a recent divorce, the loss of a job, or suffering an injury that proved the difference between being able to work and not, or a hospitalization that wiped out savings. “There but for the grace of God we go,” he said. “The thing I’ m really proud of is that when people donate to our entity, every cent goes to the poorest people in our county.”