Local homeless shelters stretched in cold weather

Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church opens to needy
Posted at 10:14 PM, Dec 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-12 23:18:59-05

As the temperatures drop, local shelters are filling to capacity. The struggle to help the growing need in these conditions is an uphill battle because of funding cuts.

Homelessness is an often overlooked epidemic in our city, and in these temperatures it can be a matter of life and death. But there are people fighting to make the situation better.

Larry Hartmann helps those who have nowhere to go.

"I can't even describe how cold it is," he says. "You are so out of energy. Your body just uses everything it has to stay warm."

He knows exactly how it feels, because he spent much of his adult life homeless, abusing alcohol.

"I got to the point where I just would never stop," he says. "I would drink all the time. I didn't care about work, and lost jobs. Pretty soon, I was on the street."

Six years ago, he showed up at the doorstep of Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church, which offers a warming room with beds for 22 people, and a meal brought in by volunteers every night. It's run by Pastor Karen Hagen, who tries to help as many people as she can every winter, with very limited resources.

"The first thing she did was take me to this box of shoes and find me shoes," Larry says. "I couldn't believe a stranger was trying to help me."

"You realize that we all are more alike, than we are different," says Pastor Hagen. "I can't believe what many of these people have had to endure. The worst part, is having to turn people away. So far this winter, we've only been open for about a week and a half, and we've been having to turn people away at the door every night. It's very distressing."

Pastor Hagen helped Larry get sober, which he's been for six years. He's now the caretaker of the church.

"I have the keys to this whole church," he says. "It's like ever since I came here, I have the keys to the world. This place has given me a safe haven and second chance at life."

And he's paid it forward by creating "Larry Under The Bridge" -  everyday he delivers meals and supplies to people who are living under bridges, and in homeless camps around the city. But he admits, it's nearly impossible to reach all of them.

"To be able to help everyone, we need more stuff than we can get our hands on," Larry says. "This is really more of a problem here than anyone thinks, and it's no way to live. Nobody deserves it."

Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church is always looking for volunteers, as well as monetary donations and supplies, like food, winter boots, and clothing.