'I slept great': East St. Louis shelter gives aid to homeless during Arctic blast

News-DemocratJanuary 7, 2014 

— Three hot meals, a warm place to rest from the frigid temperatures and a place to interact with people you didn't already know were some of the things several people who received a helping hand from the Lessie Bates Neighborhood House had to say Tuesday to describe their experience.

Since Friday, Lessie Bates officials along with Catholic Urban Programs swung the doors open to the Lessie Bates Continuum of Life building at 1274 N. 37th St. They went out to look for the homeless and those who were down on their luck and didn't have heat in their homes. The needy were invited to come inside the center to eat, play games, shower and sleep.

Roland Wilson, 50, who has been homeless off and on for the last couple of years, said he came to the facility as soon as the doors opened and he is glad he did.

"It makes me feel good to know that there are people out here who care about me and others like me who need a helping hand. We eat three times a day and are kept warm."

He said he was very glad that he was not on the street.

"I couldn't keep warm if they weren't here. I might be standing around a barrel with some wood in it in front of a house."

Wilson said he had been staying inside a friend's house where there is no electric or running water to protect it from thieves and to have some kind of shelter for himself and to protect the property from thieves. But he said the frigid temperatures that the region has been experiencing for the last few days were more than he could take.

The temperature dropped to 14 below zero at the St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia early Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Wilson said he was born and raised in East St. Louis and did not graduate from school. He is optimistic that his luck will change and he will one day be able to provide for himself and have place of his own to live in.

He said he tries to give back to shelter officials for helping him by helping them to pass out food from their food pantry and unload trucks.

Eddie Gibson, 51, said he has come to the shelter in times like these over the last four or five years.

"The people here are always friendly. They make me feel good. They have good food. It's very delicious," he said.

"I thank them and I thank God for them," he said.

Gibson has been homeless for the last 20 years, he said.

Shirleen Garner, 44, is also feeling fortunate to be one of those who is reaping the benefits and comforts that Lessie Bates is providing.

"I feel so good. I slept great, ate good and wasn't depressed no more. I feel lovely," she said.

"I thank everyone who is helping us to be warm and comfortable," Garner said. "They are doing God's work."

Herbert Randy Campbell 53, said he had no utilities at home and the frigid blast and high winds drove him to seek better shelter.

"I was sitting at McDonald's and a few friends of mine came in and they told me about this place," Campbell said. "I came here and I have no regrets. I am very much pleased. I been eating -- not just food, but good food. And there's so much food that there is plenty for everyone. It's very clean here. Anyone who is down on their luck and needs a helping hand, I highly recommend this place."

Tenille Traylor, assistant director of the Continuum of Life building, said Tuesday at least 30 people were in the shelter. And since Friday, more than 100 people from the community have come in.

The facility has been open for 24 hours, said Vera Jones, vice president of marketing and development.

Jones said the shelter will remain open 24 hours until there is a break in temperatures.

Gerry Hasenstab, president of Catholic Urban Programs, and Bill Kreeb, president of Lessie Bates said they are working together to ensure that they provide help to as many people who are in need as they can.

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

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