An assortment of community organizations, both private and public, are working together to establish a warming center to keep the homeless population of the county safe during the freezing winter weather. 

One of the biggest challenges that homeless individuals can face is extreme weather throughout the year – like overheating in summer and freezing in the winter. 

Warming centers act as a means to combat the threat of freezing during the winter by offering a heated space to sleep with access to bathrooms and food. 

However, to establish a constant warming center requires qualified facilities, steady volunteers and an assortment of other challenges. More than ten organizations in the community have looked at these challenges and agreed they need to be overcome to provide a safe place for a sometimes forgotten population of Lincoln County.

The Tri-County Continuum of Care, Lincoln County Health Department, Lincoln County Emergency Management, Lincoln County Fire Protection District #1, Mercy Hospital Lincoln, Community Opportunities, Sts. Joachim and Ann, NECAC, Youth in Need, Job Centers for Warren/Lincoln Counties, and several local faith-based organizations have all come together in several meetings to discuss how to make the warming centers happen. 

“The key here is we don’t want anybody to die because they don’t have a warm place to stay for the night,” Lincoln County Emergency Services Director Jim Sharp said. 

“All we’re trying to do is find a place in Lincoln County where if we come across someone who is homeless, or if someone calls in, or however we make contact with those people, we’d like to be able to say ‘yes you can do that here.’”

Sharp then went on to lay out a few more things that need to be covered before the warming center gets officially up and running. 

“Finding a place, finding people to staff that building overnight and some training that is required. There’s the issue of communicating with the folks who are homeless or who have the risk of homelessness to say ‘look here’s a new option.’ Transportation is an issue. If we find someone up in Elsberry but the center’s down in Troy, how do [we] make that happen? There are a lot of things that we’re trying to pull together before we make this official so that when we make it official we kind of have it all considered,” Sharp said.

The Lincoln County Health Department has confirmed they have a space in their building that can qualify for the warming center. 

The next biggest need that arises after finding a space is finding and training reliable volunteers. 

The health department has two volunteer training dates planned in December – one on Tuesday, Dec. 17 from 2-3:30 p.m. and the other on Thursday, Dec. 19 from 6:30-8pm both located at the Lincoln County Health Department. There is also a training at the O’Fallon City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 7 from 6:30-8 p.m. 

Anyone interested in volunteering for the warming center can attend. 

Once the one and a half hour trainings are completed, warming center volunteers will be assigned shifts where they will stay at the warming centers with several other volunteers through the night. 

Lincoln County Fire Protection District Chief Dan Casey said the shifts would most likely be split in two, one lasting from 9 p.m.-2 a.m. and the second from 2-6/7 a.m. 

“The goal is really death and injury prevention because those cold temperatures at night can really lead to serious health problems and death,” Jennifer Harris said, Director of Programs at the Lincoln County Health Department. “An effort like this really needs the involvement of the entire community because the individuals we’re trying to serve are part of our community, so it’s great when we can see organizations coming together to work on that.”