Tampa homeless shelters packed during first cold snap of 2020

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – With temperatures expected to dip in Tampa Bay Monday night, people began lining up early in downtown Tampa looking for an escape from the cold.

Hyde Park United Methodist Church was expecting a packed house, and that’s exactly what happened.

A large crowd was seeking shelter and a warm meal as they gathered outside the church, waiting for the doors to open at 6 p.m.

“They’re our friends,” said Vicki Walter, minister of missions and outreach at Hyde Park United Methodist Church. “We love helping them, and we’re glad they’re here.”

As part of the “Open Arms” outreach program, the church has been working for more than two decades, helping the homeless in a number of ways.

For Morgan Powell, a warm bed, hot meal and a safe place to sleep are the greatest gifts she could ever receive, she said. She told 8 On Your Side she had tremendous gratitude for all that the church does.

Powell is a former war correspondent, spending most of her life covering global conflicts in places like Bosnia and El Salvador.

However, her personal struggles here at home living on the streets, have been the most challenging by far – often needing help.

“They do great things, and you get the sense that they really care,” Powell said referring to the volunteers at Hyde Park United Methodist Church. “They honestly care. They’re the real deal.”

So, when the temperatures dip dangerously low, Powell finds comfort and compassion at the church. For her, it’s home, a safe place. The friendly faces of volunteers feel like family.

“They just open up to everybody and they do it with such class and dignity. They welcome everybody,” Powell shared with 8 On Your Side.

Hyde Park United Methodist Church has a longstanding tradition of helping the homeless, working for nearly two decades, partnering with agencies like the Salvation Army, Metropolitan Ministries, as well as Hillsborough County.

Their mission is simple – providing compassion and shelter to those who need it most. On cold nights, men and women are provided both dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. They are housed separately for safety reasons, and those who utilize the shelter services are profoundly grateful.

“I would never want to sleep outside, I think it would be scary in the best of weather, but in the worst of weather, you’re afraid for your safety, not good for your health. It’s great to be able to invite people in,” Vicki Walker said. “They’re friends coming in on a cold night.”

After all, the program is called “Open Arms,” and that’s exactly what they do.

“These people are just all-out. That’s not an exaggeration. They do it lovingly, cheerfully, and with really open arms,” Powell said.

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