Cold nights and only 1 homeless shelter in St. Johns | News

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Cold nights and only 1 homeless shelter in St. Johns
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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- Matt Dimon is homeless. Right now, he lives and works at the St. Francis House homeless shelter in St. Augustine.

He knows what it's like to be cold on the streets.

"The elements are the worst ... the cold, even the heat in the summer time. Most people don't have a clue what it's like," Dimon noted.

The St. Francis House is the only emergency homeless shelter in St. Johns County.

And the past two nights, "We had more people than we had beds, even in our overflow," Executive Director Judy Dembowski explained.

She told her staff Tuesday night not to turn away anyone. "I said, 'If people have to sit up, have people sit up. Squeeze them in. It's going to be cold out there and there aren't any other indoor options tonight."

There is only one other place in St. Johns County -- First United Methodist Church of St. Augustine -- that opens up to let homeless sleep inside when it's cold. However, the church opens only if the temperature drops to 32 degrees. It was open Monday, but Tuesday the church did not open because the temperature low was 35 degrees.

So that leaves the St. Francis House. It has 60 beds on a regular night, and there are approximately 1,400 homeless people in St. Johns County according to the last homeless census a year ago.

Many homeless live in the woods or on the streets.

Finding more shelter space has been an ongoing issue for years.  This is Dembowski's first winter as director of the St. Francis House and she said the freezing temperatures "really showed us the dearth of beds we have to meet the need."

The need, as Dimon said, "just to be warm."

However, Dembowski said the outpouring from the community was very good. She said many people brought blankets, coats, and sleeping bags to help the homeless, whether they were at the shelter or in the cold.

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