COLLIER COUNTY — Lying next to a rectory, on the grounds of a Collier County church, Tommy Hannon learned his lesson.
His battle with drugs and alcohol had put him there, outdoors. In a sleeping bag that won’t dry. On a night when the cold is deadly.
Two years ago, Hannon, 52, escaped that cold for one night. He came to Saint Matthew’s House, stayed in its emergency shelter, and things have been different ever since.
“They save people’s lives here,” Hannon said of his experience with Saint Matthew’s.
The emergency shelter set up in the dining area of Saint Matthew’s at the corner of Glades Boulevard and Airport-Pulling Road in East Naples gave warmth to 15 people Monday night and looked to serve an amount closer to its limit of 24 people Tuesday night.
As the cold strikes Southwest Florida, the homeless, many displaced by the recession, have a home in a few, warm shelters.
Saint Matthew’s House Director Vann Ellison said some homeless are fearful about coming into a shelter program, but “having a safe place to be tonight can save their lives.”
In Lee County, those looking to escape the cold can find refuge at the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Lodge at Royal Palm Avenue and Edison Avenue or at The Fort Myers Rescue Mission at 6900 Mission Lane off Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard.
Rescue Mission Senior Pastor and Director George Schaefer said the homeless often only learn of the shelters through word of mouth.
“Normally, we have about 80 people here, but when cold weather comes we’ll go over a hundred,” Schaefer said.
Both Ellison and Schaefer said their programs have a need for warm weather clothing, blankets, and other essentials like coffee and other food products.
Nate Orman, 24, who was recently diagnosed with diabetes after his friends left him in Naples, was also staying Tuesday night at Saint Matthew’s House. He came to escape the cold weather, but he’s trying to stay in the program’s residences, which have been booked solid for two years.
“I would’ve told them, either you freeze you’re butt off or you come in here,” Orman said when asked what he’d tell someone worrying about staying in a shelter.
“I’d rather be warm,” he said.
Between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., those staying in the emergency shelter will be woken up. They’ll be sent out. No hanging around. They’re expected to be hunting for jobs.
Hannon’s already got one, and a place to stay that isn’t a shelter. He’s working as a caddy, as he did before becoming homeless, and has been inspired by the faith he discovered on a cold Collier County night.
“It really restores people,” Hannon said of Saint Matthew’s. “There is a lot more going on here, other than a shelter.”