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9 December 2019

Warm Nights program available for those in need during winter months

As the cold winter season has begun rearing its chilly head, and as rigid temperatures and possible wind and snow storms have great potential to wreak havoc, it is very possible that your family members, friends, neighbors – and yes, even you – might end up need assistance in keeping warm.

Fortunately, Greene County Human Services operates a special initiative – called the “Warm Nights” Program – that is available to help those who may need emergency assistance during the cold, wintry months.

Through the program, residents in need are able to use a free overnight shelter that will provide a warm and safe place to stay on extremely cold winter nights.

The shelter, which is located on the premises of the Greene County Fairgrounds, is open to individuals as well as families and their children when temperatures fall to 25 degrees and below from December through March.

The program started in Greene County in 2014, and Human Services began using the house for the “Warm Nights” program in 2015.

The program is coordinated and made possible through what Switalski refers to as “true community collaboration.” In addition to numerous volunteers, the program receives assistance from the Greene County Commissioners and various county departments, United Way of Greene County, Washington Health System-Greene, Salvation Army, Waynesburg University and others.

Amy Switalski, director of the county’s Housing Department, said that since July 1, 2018, 19 different households have used the shelter.

She also said that the house provides “basics” – electricity, running water and hot showers, a functioning kitchen and bathroom, cots and blankets, some living room furniture. The house’s furnishings have been provided by donors, and community volunteers can assist with food for meals if needed. 

“So, in essence, everything pertaining to the house and program is taken care of through generous donations and the cooperation of the many involved entities and volunteers,” Switalski said.

Switalski said there are a few rules that must be followed by those using the shelter. 

The house is used on a day-by-day basis, and those using it must make arrangements to arrive by 7 p.m. and depart by 7 a.m. the following morning, unless different arrangements have been authorized.

Residents wanting to use the house must call to register on the day they need it by 4 p.m. No walk-ins will be permitted. Residents seeking assistance after 4 p.m. may contact Waynesburg Borough Police at 724-627-8113. 

Those using the house are not permitted to bring in weapons, drugs and/or alcohol; and pets are not allowed, except registered service dogs. The Greene County Humane Society will house animals overnight at no cost upon request. 

Other than that, Switalski said the only other requirement is that the house is available for those in emergency need of assistance.

“If you have no place to stay, then we can help,” she said.

Former Executive Director Barb Wise has been involved with the “Warm Nights” program since its inception. As this winter season marks the program’s fifth anniversary, Wise said she is proud of what the initiative has accomplished thus far.

“I’m so happy it’s still running like a well-oiled machine,” she said. “It’s exciting and it really warms my heart to see that the community is working hard together to continue this wonderful program.”

Wise thanked the organizations, businesses, county departments and officials and volunteers who have been involved with the program’s continued success; she also acknowledged the Greene County Commissioners for donating what she fondly refers to as “the little white house.”

Janice Blair-Martin, a community volunteer for the program, said “Warm Nights” is a vital program for residents of Greene County.

“Through this program, we want to be able to give people an opportunity to feel safe and have a good night’s rest without worrying about the low temperatures outside and even providing a place to stay if a furnace goes out,” she said. “I was blessed when asked to join others in this program knowing the needs. My hope is that people truly use the facility to its fullest and understand its value to all of us.”

Commissioner Blair Zimmerman said the Board of Commissioners fully supports the “Warm Nights” initiative.

“Although it is unfortunate that unexpected and unforeseen issues may cause residents to have to use the shelter, it is fortunate that Greene County is able to provide it to anyone who is faced with a difficult situation,” Zimmerman said. “If the shelter and program help even one individual during the long winter months, then it is absolutely worth it.”  

For more information about the “Warm Nights” program, or to register for the shelter, call the Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services Crisis Hotline at 1-800-417-9460. Or, dial 2-1-1.