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December 7, 2013

Friends help homeless survive winter

NORMAN — Winter’s a hard time to be homeless. Greg, age 43, and Tim, age 27, sat in the Food & Shelter cafeteria on Friday enjoying lunch and the warmth of the downtown shelter. They were in a jovial mood, grateful to have something to eat and a warm place to sleep.

For Tim, the warm place to sleep was the Food & Shelter temporary, overnight shelter started with the help of city funds during winter months because the numbers of homeless in Norman exceeded shelter beds. The winter weather program is about three years old.

“I got a phone call from one of my constituents who told me about a woman who got released from Cleveland County Detention Center and almost froze because she had no where to go,” said Norman City Council member Tom Kovach. “She was wearing shorts. She was released in the evening and in the morning the Food and Shelter folks found her outside nearly frozen to death.”

Food & Shelter Executive Director April Doshier came up with the idea to open the shelter at night with a paid monitor to oversee the crowds. The city helps pay for the monitor.

“Lord knows how many lives we’ve saved,” Kovach said. “The measure of a society is how it treats the least fortunate of its members. Norman isn’t about to let people freeze to death on the streets.”

With freezing temperatures and wintry weather, the temporary shelter was crowded Thursday night.

“It was one of the biggest crowds I’ve seen here,” Tim said. “It was packed in here.”

Greg, who normally camps said he came in out of the cold as well.

“I got lucky,” Greg said. “I crashed with a friend.”

For a time, Greg lived in hotels but that was costly. He started living outside in mid-July. It’s not his first experience with homelessness, he said. In years past, he learned survival skills from a World War II veteran. One year, he dug a trench, used a tarp as a cover and cut a hole to let the smoke from a fire out. He said he was warm as toast that year.

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