TRAVERSE CITY— Randy Parcher is no stranger to bone-chilling nights, having spent them in his van, in a hut he made of wooden pallets and plastic, or in the aisles of stores open all night long.
“I spent many a night in (stores,) but you’d have to keep walking around,” said Parcher, a homeless Traverse City man. “If you fell asleep, someone would come up to you, ‘You have to leave now.’ There were people actually freezing to death.”
Parcher said the First Church of the Nazarene took action to help the homeless in 2003, when it began providing shelter. That evolved into Safe Harbor, a collection of churches that provide shelter and free meals to the homeless in the colder winter months, which is serving increasing numbers, said Ryan Hannon, Goodwill’s street outreach coordinator.
“Last year, during the first week, it was 45 on the one night it was really cold,” he said. “Last night at West Bay Covenant church we had 52; the night before we had 59 people.”
Just two years ago, November’s nightly average was just 26.
Hannon estimates there are nearly 100 homeless people on the streets in the Traverse City area. There’s nowhere for them to go between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. when Jubilee House closes and Safe Harbor opens.
Saturday’s wind chill dipped to zero. Temperatures will range in the mid 20s to 30s this week with a strong chance of light to moderate snowfall each day, said National Weather Service meteorologist Justin Arnott.
Staying warm is particularly challenging on weekends when the Traverse City library runs shorter hours, Parcher said.
Parcher was sipping a cup of coffee at Central United Methodist, which serves a free breakfast seven days a week and provides showers and a mailing address. The church also offers a free lunch on Thursdays.
Volunteer Coordinator Mike McDonald said 80 to 90 folks—nearly all from the five-county area—typically show up for breakfast during the winter.
Parcher takes advantage of dry shelter and library time to work on his art. He plans to sell his pieces, many of which portray homeless life, at a Bay Pointe Community Church juried art show in March.
“He’s got some very interesting work. Yeah, it’s exciting,” said Stephanie McCrumb, who’s in charge of the show.
Parcher, 54, and his girlfriend normally sleep in his van because of the shelter “drama.” He recalled once driving up to a Safe Harbor church, only to discover three police cars outside. But the weekend weather was too cold, too quick and the shelter at West Bay Covenant Church was calm.
Donna Bradley, 30, who described herself as temporarily homeless, said she’s grateful for the churches’ compassion and passed a note to a reporter.
“We love the exuberance the church community has. Thank you, you’re ebullient spirit is authentic.”
But not everyone loves the rules. Across the church alley, a couple of clusters of mostly men huddled together in the freezing air, a few smoking or sharing an early-morning beer. Doug Wilson said he doesn’t go to the library; he stays warm by walking around. James Calahan, 58, said the cold is hard on the elderly.
“I’m in pretty good shape now, but I don’t think I’ll make it in another year,” he said.