BLOOMINGTON — For people living on the streets in the bitter cold, darkness brings neither comfort nor rest.

"You don't really sleep. You just try to keep yourself warm all night. It's hard. Really hard," said Jason Hampleman, who has been homeless since April when his grandmother was moved into an assisted living facility and he lost his place to live.

Hampleman exchanged his spot in a city parking garage for a bed last week at Abundant Life in Christ Church in downtown Bloomington where he and others have sought shelter from the bone-chilling temperatures.

The holidays were a busy time for the church, 108 E. Market St., but the arctic weather that has blanketed the area since the new year began has resulted in longer hours and more services to serve the homeless population, said Pastor Charles Ahrens.

"It's pretty much a revolving door," said Ahrens, who took over the three-story building in April 2016 with plans to renovate the upper floors for housing.

"During the day, we're here from 7 a.m. to 5 for people to come by. If they need a place, we let them stay a couple nights until we can help them find something," said Ahrens.

The city's two other shelters, at Home Sweet Home Ministries and the Salvation Army, also have been filled to capacity since the cold snap began more than a week ago. 

The homeless shelters work year round to address the homeless need in the Twin Cities where an estimated 50 chronically homeless people are without stable housing, according to the 2015 Mental Health Action Plan compiled by the McLean County Board.

More than two-thirds of those individuals staying at Salvation Army's Safe Harbor have a mental health or substance abuse issue, according to the study.

On Friday morning, people were waiting outside for Abundant Life's doors to open and a chance to have a cup of coffee and baked goods before the morning Bible study. The church also has a food pantry, clothing room and a place to do laundry.

Some of the people who come inside for a few hours are working toward a stable life that was lost for a variety of reasons and circumstances. 

Others choose to live outside in all kinds of weather.

Now 31, Daniel Prouty has spent most of the past 14 years on the street. 

"I'd rather be outside, live off the land," said Prouty, who has rebuffed offers from his family to come home. The warm jacket Prouty wears came from a recent visit on the street with his father.

With the exception of a brief stretch when he was employed and had an apartment, Prouty said he has lived near an underpass on the city's west side. The frigid temperatures brought Prouty to the Salvation Army Thursday night for what he considers temporary shelter.

"If it wasn't so cold, I'd be outside in a tent," he said.

For Hampleman, the goal is to find a restaurant job and save enough money for a place to live. He's put in job applications, but without a cellphone and transportation, it's been difficult to follow up with prospective employers.

Cold feet — one of the major concerns for homeless people — were averted this week for Hampleman and 14 others with the donation of 15 pairs of insulated boots. 

Sleeping bags and blankets also are essential survival gear for the homeless, said Ahrens.

At the church, ongoing kitchen renovation and the unexpected crisis of frozen water pipes are part of the background chaos that somehow gets resolved with the help of volunteers like Jermaine Thompson.

"It's like a job," Thompson joked, as he chatted with a group on Friday.

Working around his job at UPS, Thompson makes coffee, helps with the clothing room and provides music for church services. His recent involvement with a chronically homeless man with a long record of interactions with police resulted in the man finding a place to live.

"Some people choose to stay outside, but they need a warm place to lay their head. We know it's dangerous outside, but we've got to stick it out. We've got to life them up," said Thompson.

Ahrens said planning has started for a sprinkler system that must be completed before people can live on portions of the upper floors. Currently 10 people, including Ahrens, live in the building.  

Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny



Reporter for The Pantagraph.

Load comments