The temperature may be dropping as we approach winter, but the number of homeless seeking shelter and warmth is on the rise.
Just after 3:30 Wednesday morning, a homeless woman in Galloway Township was injured in a fire, believed to have started from a candle, after seeking shelter in an abandoned RV.
Ron Garbutt, Fire Marshall for Galloway Township, said, "Generally it happens this time of the year because they use the external heat sources to try to keep warm and generally we have a fire and this is the result of what happens."
Fire officials in Galloway say areas like the one on Waveland Avenue are magnets for homeless people because with a little bit of heat from something like a candle or maybe a portable heater, it can really take the edge off from the wind and ice outside, but at the same time, officials say they are unfit and unsafe to live in. Garbutt said, "We wish they would go to a place that has heat - either the rescue mission or somehow seek shelter other than these abandoned vehicles out in the woods."
Earlier this week Bridgeton Police found 50-year-old Joseph Hanshaw dangling from a clothing donation box outside the Salvation Army church.
Captain James Stephenson of the Bridgeton Salvation Army said, “Unfortunately we think he was looking to get out of the cold on Monday evening, trying to get into the bin just to be able to stay warm."
Where other towns and municipalities have code blue procedures to help the homeless on freezing nights, Bridgeton currently does not.
Bridgeton Mayor, Albert Kelly, admits he's ashamed the city has not done more to protect their homeless population. Kelly said, "We have been neglectful, not just the city but this community, we have not stepped up to the plate."
However, the Mayor and Salvation Army officials say discussions about code blue warming centers opening in area churches were happening just 5 days before the homeless man became stuck on clothing bin door, and died. Stephenson explained, "The irony here is that this was already being discussed prior to this incident with Mr. Hanshaw."
Officials have since opened the doors at several facilities to the homeless looking to get out of the cold.
The warming center program began on Tuesday night at St. Anthony’s Episcopal Church on Commerce Street and will act as an informal type of shelter. Officials say the warming centers are allowed to have up to 14 people for 14 consecutive days, or less, without breaking any sheltering rules.
The centers will not be open every day, but instead, on days when there is precipitation at 32 degrees or less, or 25 degrees and below with normal weather.
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