Though the snow didn’t cover the Texas Panhandle over the holiday, it was a Blue Christmas for city organizations that help Amarillo’s homeless population.
Christmastime — and in particular a frigid Tuesday that saw daytime temps sink lower than those near midnight — has been the first true test for the newly formed Code Blue system and its Warming Station at the Guyon Saunders Resource Center at 200 S. Tyler St. downtown.
“Unfortunately, the first test came over Christmas,” said Vince Hernandez, executive director of the resource center. “It’s a tough time to get volunteers, but it seems to be working really well.”
The city felt a low temperature of 12 degrees at 10:30 a.m., more than 10 degrees colder than the temperature recorded just after midnight, according to National Weather Service Amarillo meteorologist Mike Gittinger. The temps hovered around 15 degrees during the day.
“It definitely bottomed out about mid-morning,” Gittinger said. “It was cloudy, which helps keep the temperature down.”
Tuesday had the lowest daytime temperatures for the city during a cold Christmas. The Guyon Saunders Resource Center has been open 24/7 since Sunday, Hernandez said, staffed mainly by volunteers throughout the community to help people and pets survive the dangerously low temperatures.
“There’s quite f a few more people here than we normally see,” Hernandez said just after noon Tuesday. “It’s been that way throughout the weekend.”
A new approach
The idea for the warming centers came about earlier this year as members of Amarillo’s Continuum of Care formed a subcommittee months ago to discuss how best to combat severe winter for the city’s homeless population.
“Basically what we came up with was that we didn’t need to have another shelter,” Hernandez said. “We really needed to have a place where they could go in and get out of the cold weather. It Makes sense Guyon Saunders Resource Center would fill that role.”
The Code Blue Warming Station at the GSRC is a complement to existing shelters in Amarillo, such as the Salvation Army and Faith City Mission. Some members of the community choose not to go to shelters for reasons that oftentimes include keeping warm with their pets, Hernandez said.
The GSRC allows pets at all hours and provides kennels and food donated by organizations such as Amarillo’s Merrick Pet Care.
Also involved are agencies such as Yellow City Community Outreach and Amarillo Housing First have established relationships with the at-risk community and have the ability to transport people to the GSRC and provide the volunteer resources necessary to run the Warming Station throughout the night.
“What we decided to do was, this year, when it got extremely gold, we would extend the GSRC hours to be a 24-hour facility,” Hernandez said.
Additional volunteers for the program are being assembled through Code Blue alerts, which send out messages through various media to those in the community who sign up and want to offer assistance or make donations.
Hernandez said the Panhandle Regional Planning Center was instrumental in setting up the Code Blue alerts, which have worked out well for helping staff the first full weekend of the 24-hour warming stations.
“We have very small staff, so it would have been really difficult for us to stay open 24/7, but it’s worked out pretty well so far,” Hernandez said.
He said the weather service has also played a major role, helping the Code Blue team with weather predictions and understanding when certain conditions become life-threatening.
A continuing need
The NWS has been putting out information letting people know that the temperature will fluctuate as winter kicks into full gear.
Gittinger said today’s temperatures will likely be in the mid-30s — possibly as high as 36, depending again on the amount of cloud cover — before dropping back down to 12 degrees.
A warming trend will follow, with highs in the 50s expected Thursday.
But the freezing daytime temperatures — and increased use of the Code Blue warming stations — are likely to return for New Year’s, with temperatures that may once again only reach the teens as 2018 approaches.