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Emergency Shelter In OKC Opens To Keep The Homeless Warm

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

Another arctic blast is expected to hit the metro Monday night. For those living on the streets, the frigid temperatures can be deadly. However, the Salvation Army is opening its doors to offer a safe place to stay warm.

“You show up at our door,” said Major Thomas McWilliams, the area commander in Oklahoma City, "we're going to let you in. We hope that it's a stepping stone for people to be able to come off the streets completely.”

It was the step Mark Smith needed.

“A lot of the people living on the streets are there because of addiction,” he said.

He knows this because he was one of them.

“I got to the point where I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Smith said.

Smith struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism for 25 years. He lived on the streets until the Salvation Army coaxed him into the shelter.

“You're used to just living on the streets and you've got nothing and all of a sudden you've got everything,” he said.

Now, almost three years later, he has his own apartment and works full time at the Salvation Army. On Sunday, he was setting up cots inside the warming station to prepare for another frigid night ahead. On any given night, there are 1,400 people who are homeless, 300 of whom are roaming the streets with no shelter.

“It's been brutal around here at night,” said Major McWilliams. “If you're out there exposed to these elements that we've had at night then death is a real possibility.”

Anyone can come into the emergency shelter to get a free meal and bed for the night. The first night, they had 70 people come in, a safe alternative to finding refuge in abandoned buildings.

“They're just trying to stay warm,” said Battalion Chief Benny Fulkerson with the Oklahoma City Fire Department. "It's miserable. It's bitterly cold."

Firefighters have seen six fire deaths so far this year with at least three believed to be homeless and seeking shelter.

“These people are in survival mode,” Fulkerson added. "It's an unfortunate situation."

However, Smith hopes to show those people dealing with homelessness like he once was, a way out.

“Since I was saved through this,” Smith said, "it's my job to go out there and make sure that no one is left behind."

The Salvation Army will open its emergency shelter at 5 p.m. on nights the temperature drops to 32 degrees or below. The shelter is located at 1001 N. Pennsylvania Avenue. Those who come in will receive a free dinner and breakfast the next morning. The shelter is possible with the help from the Homeless Alliance, City Care, the United Way of Central Oklahoma, and Elite Protection Services.

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