Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center

Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center is one of Denton’s warming stations, open to those seeking warmth and shelter during chilly days.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated which Denton Fire Department stations also serve as warming stations.

As coat and beanie weather breaches Denton again, city facilities and shelters are preparing to take in anyone who needs a warm place to stay — day or night, weekday or weekend.

There are some caveats due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though. The city of Denton will offer personal protective equipment to anyone escaping the cold at one of six fire stations or the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, and staff at the Monsignor King Outreach Center shelter will screen clients for any coronavirus symptoms before they can come inside.

Starting with Thanksgiving last week, the Monsignor King shelter at 300 Woodrow Lane has expanded its capacity and days of operation. The shelter can now house 47 people overnight and is open Monday through Friday, with extended days if the temperature drops below freezing.

“If the temperature does drop below 32 degrees, we will open Saturday and Sunday,” Assistant Director Alva Santos said. “It just depends daily on what the forecast is, and we’re looking [at the weather] two days in advance.”

The National Weather Service reported a low of 22 degrees in Denton around 6 a.m. Tuesday. The weather service predicted that another cold front could pass through Wednesday, bringing low temperatures in the 30s.

Inclement weather hours will be 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday at Our Daily Bread’s location at 300 W. Oak St. and 5:30 p.m.-9 a.m. Monday-Sunday at the Monsignor King facility on Woodrow Lane. Our Daily Bread and the Monsignor King Outreach Center recently merged together to become The Junction of Denton County.

The shelter shuttered its doors in late March, but staff continued to shelter guests at a local motel as the coronavirus continued to spread. Staff opened the shelter on Woodrow Lane once again in August at a limited capacity of about 30 people because it isn’t easy to keep people at least six feet apart.

Now, the shelter is keeping overnight guests spaced out by alternating the bunk beds. If someone is sleeping on the top bunk, no one sleeps in the bottom bunk. The bunk bed next to that one will only have someone sleeping on the bottom bunk, but no one on the top bunk. And on it goes.

“Before, they were really close, two feet [apart] maybe,” Santos said. “Now, we’re able to spread them out. Our [empty] beds are kind of a space between the two.”

Screenings for COVID-19 symptoms are done in a private room, Santos said. She said they recently had 28 people at the overnight shelter, but she wasn’t sure how the cold weather will affect their numbers.

In late March, the city booked a block of about 60 rooms in two hotels to house people as Monsignor King shuttered its doors temporarily.

“I hope that we are able to keep it a little bit longer because we have more beds at the motel,” Santos said. “If we lost the motel, we’d have those 70 people without a place to be.”

Money from the CARES Act has funded the hotel rooms the city procured to house more shelter clients, but those funds are set to expire on Dec. 31. On Tuesday, city staff recommended to the Denton City Council to continue using the alternative shelter arrangement because active COVID-19 cases are increasing, Monsignor King still has a limited capacity and because more funding is coming.

Next week, City Council will vote to possibly extend emergency shelter with the current hotel through January 2021 and consider amending the city’s plan to use some of the city’s CARES Act Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to pay for the emergency shelter.

City spokesperson Ryan Adams said city staff will bring forward a contract in January with a hotel to fund 40 rooms from January to June 2021 using some of the city’s CDBG funds.

Allison Golden, a spokesperson with the Richards Group for the Salvation Army of North Texas, said they’re working with The Junction for inclement weather referrals. She said they’re also checking temperatures and trying to ensure social distancing protocols.

The Salvation Army’s Denton shelter is currently limited to 11 beds for men and nine for women due to COVID-19 capacities.

“On days we have inclement weather, we socially distance the clients and allow them to stay until conditions improve to an acceptable level,” Golden said Tuesday. “This morning it was 30 degrees so we allowed clients to stay in until noon, when temperatures were well above freezing.”

The city’s warming stations may not be as useful for those in Denton who have a home to go to, but they come in handy for those experiencing homelessness after the overnight shelters have closed for the day.

Adams said they use the city’s social media channels to let people know when these warming stations open, but added they also rely on community service providers to spread the word.

Those main organizations in Denton are the Salvation Army and The Junction.

“Those organizations work directly with people experiencing homelessness and [who] would use a warming station or inclement weather center,” Adams said. “We keep in contact with them on what our plans are so they can communicate with their clients.”

ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @zairalperez.

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