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Out Of The Cold Provides Safe Environment For Those In Need

Homelessness can be a difficult topic to talk about.

When people think of State College, the initial thought is geared toward privileged families and students. Individuals who aren’t fortunate enough to gather the same lived experiences or even support don’t normally receive adequate consideration.

In reality, the severity of the homeless population in close surrounding areas is high. With the Out of the Cold shelter, there are endless opportunities to educate yourself and others, volunteer, and support a community for homeless citizens.

Most people that Out of the Cold serves are “at the intersection of homelessness, mental health, substance use, and incarceration.”

“Out of the Cold is a low-barrier shelter, which means that we believe that shelter is a human right regardless of a decision a person has made or what they’re currently making,” board chair Kendra Gettig said. “Typically, people have some type of barrier that makes it difficult for them to secure housing.”

Eleven years ago, Out of the Cold was created by a plethora of different community, non-profit, and faith organizers in an attempt to form a different type of shelter in town. In the State College community, there are three other shelters: a domestic violence shelter, a family shelter, and a youth runaway shelter.

But soon after the idea turned into a conversation, a Bellefonte man died from hypothermia after sleeping in a tent. It was clear Out of the Cold needed to become accessible.

When it began, Out of the Cold had no funds, no staff, and essentially no resources to be available to those in need. The shelter partnered with local fellowships to help house overnight guests. Out of the Cold would rotate from church to church, every two to three weeks, to maintain overnight status.

Out of the Cold is now located at 318 S. Atherton Street — its new permanent location. In 2020, the same building was actually Out of the Cold’s first rented space and day shelter. The shelter refers to this location as its “day shelter and community resource center.” There are currently 30 people in the shelter, with 27 on the waiting list.

The Atherton location is having architectural plans approved to pass inspection for overnight usage. Once it’s approved, Out of the Cold will be a 24/7 shelter. Until then, overnight churches are still available.

“We’re incredibly grateful for all of the churches. It’s been a partnership with 15 churches, so we’re super grateful that they provided space for us. We don’t ever want to downplay that,” Gettig said.

With its new permanent location, the stability will be helpful to the shelter’s guests because of its consistency. Out of the Cold serves many individuals who have mobility issues, so setting up in one spot is a great benefit.

“If you have a criminal background, if you are struggling with addiction, you are welcome here,” Gettig said.

At the shelter, guests receive breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. Lunch is donated by a volunteer from the community or a restaurant, while a full 365 days of dinners are donated by volunteers in the community. Community members also donate articles of clothing and more for guests to choose from.

“A lot of our guests are coming out of incarceration, drug and alcohol rehabs, psych hospitals. They have what they went into that facility with. We always have clothing and hygiene donations that guests can access,” Gettig said.

Once the facility is 24/7, guests will be able to sleep on bunk beds instead of army cots. Not only does Out of the Cold provide food, shelter, and amenities, but case managers are provided to guests, assisting them to apply for legal documents and forms of identification. The managers also help apply for jobs, housing, food assistance, health insurance, substance use treatment, and more.

Out of the Cold also provides transportation for guests, whether it’s ordering an Uber or passing out bus tokens. Guests who have appointments or are employed are able to receive a ride to their destination.

On top of transportation help, the shelter is aware of the “abnormally high” cost of living in a college town and provides transitional housing for up to two years. Once a guest is able to afford housing, Out of the Cold will guide people to “getting back on their feet.”

“We also have people regularly getting released from our county jail and state prison with absolutely no plan and no resources,” Gettig said. “If you’re on probation or parole, it’s illegal to not have an address. If we can’t provide shelter to them for whatever reason, they would return to incarceration.

“There are so many barriers that people face. Both physically and societally, once you’re in this situation, it’s really hard to get yourself out of this situation,” Gettig continued. “There are not enough [case managers] who work in [prisons and jails] for the number of people who are incarcerated. It’s impossible to resource all of them… Our justice system focuses on punishment and not restoration.”

Generally, if a person spends their maximum amount of time incarcerated and they’re released, there are “no restorative resources provided to them” while incarcerated. With Out of the Cold, its goal is to provide resources every individual deserves.

Out of the Cold will soon welcome a work-study student and already provides volunteer opportunities for the entire community. To become a volunteer of any kind, you can go to Out of the Cold’s website and sign up.

“We emphasize relationships here,” Gettig said. “It takes all sectors of the community to work together.”

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About the Author

Larkin Richards

Larkin is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. The only words that leave her mouth are "yinz" and "dippy eggs." Luckily, her writing has much more substance than that. As a Steelers and Pirates fan, sports can become a hot debate. Share your thoughts on dogs (specifically Boston Terriers) with her at: [email protected]

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