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Seeking refuge: Shelter fills up in cold weather

By Sharon Woods Harris
Pekin Daily Times
Tue Jan 05, 2010, 05:00 PM CST

PEKIN, Ill. - Lingering frigid temperatures have resulted in a flood of clients at the Rust Transitional Center.

"Our capacity is 24 people based on the number of beds we have," said Tess Klein, the homeless shelter's director. "We are at 32 right now.

"We have turned the TV room into a family room where people can sleep, and there are two gentlemen sleeping in the men's lounge. We have been very, very busy. We try not to turn anyone away as long as they pass the criminal background check."

Eleven of the shelter occupants are children.

And Klein said things are likely to get busier in the coming days.

Temperature lows over the next few days will be about 10 degrees, said meteorologist Dan Kelly of the National Weather Service in Lincoln, but temperatures are expected to drop as low as 3 degrees below zero by Friday and Saturday. Additionally, another 3 to 4 inches of snow are expected Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

Monday will be relatively warmer at 20 degrees, Kelly said, but the cold spell could go through next week as well.

As the cold brings in more people, shelter expenses climb.

"We are going through groceries a lot quicker than usual," Klein said. "The clients are good about picking up staples while they are out, and the community donates dinners throughout the week."

The shelter's clients, for the most part, continue to be people who have been forced from their jobs by the economy.

"What we have seen since around June 1 are people who have been evicted, who are losing their apartment because they are unemployed and their unemployment has run out," Klein said. "There are minimum wage jobs out there, but when you have a family, it's not enough to support them.

"And there's no end in sight — not with the way the economy is. I see us getting another handful this week."

Klein said she had the Pekin Fire Department come in to check safety issues raised by an over-the-capacity population, and inspectors said the shelter would be safe as long as no doors or exits are blocked by cots.

The increased population means that there are more mouths to feed and that more supplies are needed, including blankets, pillows, food, hygiene products and socks. The homeless shelter pays for food with a set state grant, which does not account for extra people who need to eat.

"With so many people, we are going through the money more quickly," Klein said.
If the Rust Transitional Center shelter gets filled to the point at which it can't take new clients, people will be referred to shelters in Peoria, Bloomington and Eureka.

AmerenCILCO spokesman Neal Johnson said the company does not shut off service for non-payment in the winter months, but if the service was off prior to November, by law it cannot be turned back on until the bill is paid in full.

Johnson said Ameren has payment programs available to help prevent service interruption, including the deferred payment plan and level pay. For more information, go to www.ameren.com.

Contact Sharon Woods Harris at sharris@pekintimes.com.

Main Office
243 Derby Street
Pekin, IL 61554

(309) 346-3010
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Rust Transitional Center
235 Derby Street
Pekin, IL 61554

(309) 478-7878
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