Decatur lacks overnight warming centers for its growing homeless population


DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) — The plummeting temperatures we’ve been experiencing overnight are especially dangerous for Alabama’s homeless population.  

Advocates in Decatur are struggling to find a solution as the city’s homeless population grows while the number of places to keep people warm dwindles. 

The salvation army used to be one of the options for the homeless here in Decatur to go to stay warm overnight. but now that mission is closed. With temperatures below freezing on most nights, there is no immediate solution to the problem.  

 “It’s real cold out here. it’s going to be even colder out here,” said Carl Hill.  

Hill is one of the many people seeking shelter inside of Hands Across Decatur homeless shelter on fifth street.   

“I appreciate a place like this and having a place like this here in Decatur to be able to help people that’s out in the cold,” said Hill.  

But the number of places for the homeless population of Decatur to stay warm during frigid temperatures are shrinking. On top of that, the homeless population in Decatur has grown and the number of women without a place to live has tripled during the cold days. 

“It’s not just for the unhoused. we have people who are poverty-stricken that can’t afford to turn the heat up,” said Sue Terrell, founder of Hands Across Decatur, an advocacy for the homeless. When the salvation army closed its doors, Terrell and her organization knew that she had to do something.   

“We’ve decided we will be a cooling shelter, a warming shelter for our community. We will feed them when they come in and we will be here for as long as they want us to,” she said.

The problem Terrell says is that she can only stay open until the late afternoon. An added issue…the city of Decatur lacks the available spaces for the homeless to get out of the cold weather.  

“Being an outcast is no way for anybody to live at all. They are out in the cold when we close because we are not a shelter. Part of a warming shelter is having cots for them to stay on, and we don’t have that. We reach out to the community and say that we need help and that’s how it’s all done here.”

The Salvation Army says that they have been aggressive in their search for the right people to hire for its staff. But it’s had no applications filled for advocate positions since September. 

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