MERCED -- With temperatures threatening to drop below freezing this weekend, the Merced County Rescue Mission on Thursday opened a 64-person warming center tent for the homeless.
"The whole objective is so that people don't freeze to death," said Bruce Metcalf, executive director of the Rescue Mission. "We provide them a place to get out of the wind and the cold so they have a place to be."
The 15-by-30-foot heated tent is open to men, women and children. There also is an enclosure for pets. The tent has chairs, as well as cots for people to sleep on.
Those using the warming center are not allowed to use alcohol or drugs on the premises, but people will not be turned away for substance use prior to arrival, Metcalf said.
"Shelters don't allow people to come in under the influence," he said. "This is different. Our perspective on this is just to keep them out of the elements."
The Rescue Mission, which provides 20 beds for homeless men, also had been using its offices to host four to six people a night during the winter since last year. Purchasing the tent will greatly expand this service.
However, its first night open, only about five people showed up to use the new facility, Metcalf said.
"Now that we have the tent, it will give us more space," he said. "We need people to find out about it so that they know there's a place to go."
The warming tent is supported with a grant secured through the city of Merced, community members, religious congregations and nonprofit agencies.
The Rescue Mission is in "desperate need" for men and women volunteers to work at the warming tent, Metcalf said.
The facility, located behind the Rescue Mission at 1921 Canal St., is open from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. The facility will be open through the end of March.
Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.