As temperatures hover in the single digits or lower across New Hampshire, communities are opening up public buildings as warming shelters for anyone who needs a place to go during the cold.
Some cities — including Keene and Lebanon — were encouraging people to use public libraries as temporary warming shelters earlier this weekend, but many places those buildings will be closed for the New Year’s holiday.
“There are a fair amount of folks in the city that utilize this resource when the temperatures are extreme,” Keene Police Sgt. James Cemorelis wrote in an email. “When the library is closed there are other places they can go like homeless shelters, community kitchen during meal times, and the state can assist with finding shelters by calling 211 or visiting www.211nh.org.”
Officials in Rochester said their local community center will be open round-the-clock through at least Wednesday morning — offering warm meals, showers and a place to sleep for anyone in need, no matter where they live.
“We’re hesitant to use the word ‘shelter,’ because it implies more than it is — it’s not a long-term setup,” Mayor Caroline McCarley said. “It really is an opportunity to get people out of the cold.”
Tri-City Consumers' Action Cooperative (COOP) Program, SOS Recovery Community Organization of Rochester and other local community groups helped to lead the charge on launching the warming center when the temperatures dipped into dangerously cold territory last week.
The city and others involved will meet later this week to decide whether to keep the warming center open longer.
“We have a lot of incredible organizations in our community who have come together and talked with the city and said we think we have a way to provide something during this extreme weather,” McCarley said. “So we wanted to take advantage of the volunteerism and sense of doing something that would be helpful.”
Nearby communities, including Dover, are also partnering with Rochester to provide transportation to the warming center. Dover Fire Chief Eric Hagman said their city was offering a temporary warming shelter at the McConnell Center, but the center will be closed until Tuesday.
In the meantime, Hagman said people are welcome to come into the police station lobby at any time for temporary relief from the cold, or to request a free ride to the warming center in Rochester.
In Londonderry, Fire Battalion Chief Kevin Zins said people seeking refuge from the cold can visit the police department, where the community room will remain open 24 hours a day as a warming shelter in the days ahead. The local library and senior centers are also available as warming centers, Zins said, but only during business hours.
“We’ve done this in the past, but generally it’s been at the high school or at one of the school facilities,” Zins said. “This gave the ability for the schools to operate normally as well as us to be able to provide warming shelters and refuge from people who are having problems with heat in their homes.”