ALTON – Many homeless folks across Madison County were given the opportunity to take advantage of several much-needed services a lot of people take for granted Tuesday through the county's Project Homeless Connect.

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Volunteers took time seeking people from across the county to inform them of the services being provided as well as to count them and get some information from them for more accurate census information. As temperatures were falling and winds were wailing, many people were able to get bussed to the City Temple Church, located at 4751 Maryville Road in Granite City. Once there, they were not only able to have some shelter from the dangerous cold of the Polar Vortex, they were also able to take advantage of several social services.

People could receive free health insurance enrollment, medical, dental and vision exams, access to housing and jobs as well as a free meal, haircut, veteran services, legal assistance, and benefit enrollment. There were also referrals available for rental assistance and shelters.

The event last from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Tuesday, and after that, several people involved with the project said many of the people were able to find shelter from Tuesday night's bone-chilling cold in a church in Glen Carbon. Calls placed to administrators of the program have not been returned to at this time, so this could not be confirmed.

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Meanwhile, in Alton, the Alton Police Department has opened its lobby to anyone stuck in these historic wind chills without shelter overnight. Alton Police Chief Jason Simmons said he had officers patrolling the city's “hot spots” throughout the night Tuesday into the predawn hours of Wednesday morning. During that time, at least one person was spotted by officers who was well-known to the department and the area in general.

Simmons said this man, who often dons a Santa Claus hat, was able to be convinced to come to the lobby of the department, where he could get a good night's rest and something to eat. He was still in the lobby around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, and Simmons said he was sleeping. When he awoke, Simmons said there would be a meal waiting for him.

Alton Police Public Information Officer Emily Hejna said an additional female also sought shelter in the lobby of the station Tuesday evening. She left after spending the night. Hejna said the department would be again taking people seeking warmth Wednesday evening in the lobby.

Several places across the area are acting as warming shelters during the day Wednesday, including several churches and most libraries. People who need a warm place to spend the day can go into the Hayner Public Library and enjoy a good read in a warm atmosphere.

It is when these warming shelters close for the day that people truly need to seek resources. Having the lobby of the Alton Police Department open with officers on hand and on patrol carrying warm clothes for those who stay vulnerable in the cold may be life-saving efforts for people who otherwise cannot find shelter when places such as the Alton Salvation Army Booth House – one of the only places for homeless men to sleep in the county – are filled to capacity.

Many also seek the shelter of abandoned homes when the weather gets this cold. Such homes often do not have electricity, and quests for warmth often lead to dangerous situations, such as fires. Those fires started for warmth have been known to fully involve the abandoned home, leading to severe damage and possible injury or death for those within the abandoned structures. As they are abandoned, they are rarely checked, meaning someone could die there of injuries and not receive the help they could get at warming centers such as the library during the day and the police station at night.

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