In a few hours, more than a hundred people filed into the Willard Winter Shelter on Northwest 3rd Street in Oklahoma City as the state braces for a bitterly cold week.
“We'll fill this place up at some point in the next 10 days,” said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance. “Tonight, and the next 10 or 12 nights are going to be particularly brutal.”
COVID-19 and social distancing precautions forced Oklahoma City shelters to cut about 600 overnight beds, according to Straughan.
“Having this place is literally life-saving,” he said of the Willard shelter.
The shelter at 1400 NW 3rd St. opened on Jan. 15 as part of a joint partnership between the Homeless Alliance, the city of Oklahoma City and the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma. The former school building offers about 230 cots for free overnight stays.
The Willard shelter helps offset that loss but “the number of unsheltered homeless has gone up” since the start of the pandemic, he said.
Because of the cold weather and bitter wind chill, the shelter opened at 3 p.m. Monday, an hour ahead of schedule. By 6 p.m., 124 people had signed in.
If the shelter fills up, Straughan said the Homeless Alliance can reopen its Day Shelter for overnight stays.