ELYRIA — The St. Mary Parish, the same place families can have Thanksgiving and Christmas day dinners, was lined with cots from the Lorain County chapter of the American Red Cross, giving people a warm place to wait out the record breaking cold temperatures.
The facility was quickly turned into a makeshift shelter Monday afternoon as Elyria city officials grappled with the real problem of ensuring homeless residents and those without adequate heating sources were out of harm’s way.
“A non-response when the weather is this cold is simply not an option from our perspective,” said Mayor Holly Brinda.
Working with the Lorain County Emergency Management Agency and St. Mary Church, the cold weather shelter opened just after 3 p.m. Monday and will remain open to at least 7 a.m. Wednesday. Residents who need help should call (440) 323-3302.
Father Charlie Diedrick said seeing images of people trying to brave the brutal cold outside were all he needed to let him know the church could be of assistance.
“I was just going to throw open the doors so no one would be out in the cold,” he said. “This is what we do. We feed the hungry and will shelter the homeless.”
The logistics to open such a shelter brought together several agencies.
The Elyria police and health departments will have an officer and nurse at the shelter all night. LifeCare Ambulance and the Elyria police will coordinate transporting residents to the shelter. Officers and paramedics also will look for vulnerable resident throughout the night.
“We know where some of them hunker down, and we can’t make them come out of the cold, but we can offer,” said Police Chief Duane Whitely.
St. Mary will work with local restaurants — Panera Bread, Olive Garden and Burger King — to make sure everyone is feed.
Lorain County EMA Director Tom Kelley said residents who have pets will be able to shelter their pets at an alternative location.
Other cities have opened shelters as well including the Sheffield Lake Community Center, Wellington Village Town Hall and Gen. Johnnie Wilson Middle School in Lorain.
A homeless woman was allowed to sleep on a cot in the Lorain police station Monday night. Police Chief Cel Rivera said exceptions are made in extremely cold weather. About 7:30 p.m., a police officer drove the woman to the shelter at Johnnie Wilson.
Reporter Evan Goodenow contributed to this story.