During the polar vortex weather event of 2019, HQ closed due to weather for the first time in its four plus years of operation. One of HQ’s core values is to be boldly transparent and Drop-In Manager, Drea McKinney sat down to share some thoughts and observations on a week when the weather posed unique challenges for everyone struggling with housing insecurity.
It was a question of safety. We had to close. HQ is not a shelter and to be open would mean asking youth to travel twice as they came to HQ and again leaving our space in an environment where neither trip was safe. With the temperature and wind chills reaching dangerous levels, it would be irresponsible to risk the safety of our members and our staff to make the trip to HQ.
Closing didn’t feel good. I found myself thinking we were just closed for the holidays honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. and New Years Day before that. That Sunday as I looked at the forecast, I knew that if we closed Monday, we were probably going to be closed a bunch of days, maybe the whole week. I knew that no matter how hard we tried to communicate it, youth would still try to get to HQ, they would walk up to the front door and would find a locked door…an image almost too much to bear.
We were lucky to have calmer weather on Tuesday, and we made a special plan to connect members to vital resources. When we came in, we prioritized making essentials easy to access. Food and bottled water were out. Warm weather gear was on the tables. Staff started all their conversations by asking, “where are you staying tonight?” Pushed them to get into a shelter, stay with a friend, just be inside where it is safe! This was our focus, equip our members with supplies and most importantly make a plan. For those who didn’t have safety plans, we were able to press in and help them plan for the harder days ahead.
I trust our partners, they do so many amazing things for youth. I know they do good work and I know that for this emergency, HQ wasn’t the right place for youth. I was so proud to see the community respond. On that note, I have to give special recognition to Mel Trotter Ministries. Mel Trotter went above and beyond while they were in Code Blue to ensure that everyone had an opportunity to be warm and safe from the weather. Folks weren’t turned away for any reason and they even had teams driving through the community reaching out to find those who might not have gone on their own. They weren’t alone in this effort. Other shelters, many churches, community groups and generous individuals came out to help however they could. At HQ, we were flooded with meals, coats, boots and other cold weather gear from our friends. In these moments, I find generosity of our partners and this community leave me humbled and in awe.
When we finally opened again on Friday I was so pumped up for a big day, but I was also afraid that we would have lost people to the elements or that we would have lost the trust that is critical in a relationship driven environment. But it was a typical day. Our members were okay and they were excited to see us too. We still had purpose, our services were still important and we were able to jump back into the work of supporting youth striving for stability. We are a critical piece of the puzzle for our members, and it takes a community to help complete the puzzle.