ABCCM helps homeless in dangerously cold weather

Tim McElyea and another ABCCM worker try to convince those out in the cold to spend the night inside. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

A light snow fell Thursday evening as winds whipped the flags outside the Veterans Restoration Quarters (VRQ) in East Asheville.

The VRQ is one asset of the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, which helps to house veterans in need and those without shelter on nights when temperatures drop below freezing in Asheville, or a code purple night.

Tim McElyea is the director at the VRQ.

"A lot of folks aren’t prepared when we have cold weather," McElyea said.

Temperatures Tuesday night into Wednesday were expected to drop into the teens, with wind chills in the single digits. Cold enough to warrant a wind chill advisory in many mountain counties.

"A lot of people just get caught off guard, and not ready, and then you know they're in trouble, so what our goals is of course is to get as many people in as we possibly can," McElyea told News 13. "And the folks that we can't, help them get better equipped to spend the night outdoors."

On code purple nights, McElyea and the ABCCM drive around Asheville to try to bring in those without shelter. Wind chills in the single digits mean frostbite is possible within half an hour.

But, McElyea says the situation can be complicated.

"They don’t want to, you know, leave their possessions in a camp or a tent somewhere to come in and stay overnight because they’re afraid, you know, when I go back, I’m not going to have any of my stuff there," McElyea said.

Some of the homeless population suffer from PTSD. Some can't handle the crowd at shelters.

News 13 followed Tim's van Tuesday night as he approached a couple of people in Pritchard Park.

The two admitted they were cold but they were also unaware of just how cold the night was expected to become.

One admitted she had a tent, the other said he had nothing.

Tim told the two about ABCCM and did his best to convince them they would be safe and taken care of. The woman agreed to seek shelter for the night but the older gentleman decided to walk away as the ABCCM crew helped her.

Tim ran after the man, but he was already out of sight.

"He was an older gentleman and he’s not equipped to stay out tonight and, you know, it’s one we’ll be worried about for sure," McElyea said.

Tim said they would try to find the man to help him through the night with supplies like blankets, coats, food, and hand warmers, but some just won't accept help.

"It’s really difficult to walk away from somebody and know that they’re going to stay out, you know, on a night like this in these kind of temperatures," McElyea told News 13.

ABCCM operates on donations. If you would like to donate or learn more visit their website here.

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