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Waiting for Warmth

CENTRAL POINT — Ice coated cars in the parking lot as homeless people entered the Assembly of God Church Thursday, with the smell of tamales and refried beans providing a welcome greeting for those who'd slept in freezing temperatures the past few nights.

Outside in the parking lot, volunteer Debbie Saxbury offered shoes, gloves, socks and hand warmers. Fellow Central Point resident Steve Wilson handed out his trademark metal crosses, made of horseshoe nails and copper wire.

It's the one night a week the homeless can get a hot meal as they wait for a warming shelter over at Calvary Temple to reopen once construction of handicap-accessible bathrooms with showers is finished.

Jami Young, co-ministry leader for the weekly Assembly of God meal dubbed the Bethlehem Project, said the absence of the warming station this year has had an obvious impact.

"I go out and visit and I think I'm freezing cold, but I can go home and get warm and get a hot shower and they can't," Young said.

"They're there because of choices, and we can feed them and love on them and do what we can, but it's definitely harder when there are fewer options and there's nowhere they can go to get warm."

The shelter's opening is delayed until Calvary Temple can find enough volunteer labor and materials to finish the bathroom, which is about halfway done.

Wilson, who brings a truck full of homeless folks to the Thursday meal, said he's been in their shoes.

"Me and my wife came here last September and we got off the Greyhound bus with two sleeping bags and two backpacks," Wilson recalled. "We were living on the river and we came here to eat and we used the warming station when it got real cold.

"We got an apartment last December, so now we bring food. But we used to be the ones who would come here to eat."

Wilson said he worries about friends who have not managed to "get inside" yet. Sometimes they collect enough money for a hotel room, sometimes not.

Five months' pregnant, 21-year-old Kayla Freedle enjoyed a meal and received a new pair of gloves and hand warmers Thursday.

Freedle said the cycle of being homeless is hard to break. She and her boyfriend use various services around the Medford area, where she stays to be near families who care for her two daughters. She hopes to get inside before the birth of her baby boy next spring.

Freedle said services such as church meals and facilities that allow homeless to shower, do laundry and get warm can mean the difference between life and death.

"People who don't know what being homeless is like look down on us and look at us like we don't care, but there are a lot of people who are homeless who do care. The problem is not enough people care about us," she said.

"I hope they get that warming station open. It sounds like a place I would like to go. They need to keep that kind of stuff going."

Living in a small apartment and holding down a job for exactly one year, Wilson said he is always mindful that homelessness is merely one missed paycheck away.

"I got a lucky break," he said. "I had a clean driver's license and found a boss who needed someone with one of those, but when you're out there flying a sign, people always drive by and say, 'Get a job.' Well, give me one.

"By the time you've been living on the river for a week, you start to stinking and you don't want to show up like that for a job interview. The shelter in Medford gives you 10 days, so even if you get a job the first day, that first check doesn't show up on time."

Freedle said she hopes people slow down for the holidays and think before assuming homeless people don't want to change their situation.

"If you ever sit and watch people in Medford, they're always in a rush. People honk their horns, yell, cuss when you're crossing the street. That's just mean," she said.

"And, seriously, it's hard enough already to just get by. People don't have to be nasty."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffypollock@juno.com.

Steve Wilson unloads a box of socks for the homeless Thursday in the Assembly of God parking lot in Central Point. The homeless are taking advantage of the church’s weekly meal as they wait for a warming shelter at Calvary Temple to reopen. - Julia Moore