Tallahassee ‘Shelter’ Provides Sanctuary to Homeless

As winter trudges along, most Tallahassee residents simply turn on their heaters to escape the cold. But for those that do not have a home, The Shelter, located on West Tennessee Street, provides sanctuary.

The Shelter, funded through the United Way, is run by volunteers and helps in keeping people off the streets. The Shelter provides housing, showers, food and a bed for free. It admits between 120 to 150 guests per day.

Due to the cold rainy weather, the number of guests has increased to roughly 250 men, women and children during this winter season.

Sammy Towels, program coordinator, said providing service to help the guests is one of his main priorities.

“This is a place people can go when there is nowhere else,” Towels said.

Some guests come from the Apalachee Mental Health Center in another part of town. Unfortunately, 40 percent of the homeless receiving help are mental patients who leave the Apalachee Center and turn to The Shelter for help, according to Towels.

Mia Williams, from Georgia, has been living in the shelter for two weeks. In a disagreement with her family. She came to Tallahassee, looking for work.

“Living at the shelter is different but it’s okay,” said Williams.

She is not sure how long she will be staying. Nevertheless, The Shelter provided a bed and a place to keep her things.

Many other opportunities are offered through The Shelter.

Transitional housing is available to those who qualify.

“Section 8 and other housing agencies’ waiting lists are so long that we do not use their services,” Towels said.

Willie Smith, 55, also found a temporary home in the shelter. Originally from New York, Smith said he came down to Panama City to visit his aunt for the first time. Before his mother died he made a promise to see his aunt. That never came, because his aunt died a day before he arrived on a bus.

“My aunt found me work and I was going to move in with her,” Smith said. With no family, money and now no way to get a job Smith had nothing.

Smith went to a shelter in Panama City but had to leave. The shelter only allowed its guests to stay 15 days.

“I was stranded so I went to the only place I knew: the church,” said Smith. A pastor told him about Tallahassee so he came over.

For six months now, Smith has been living at The Shelter.

“It’s very difficult coming from the big city to this small country town but I’m keeping faith,” he said.