ROYAL OAK >> A couple dozen guests were scattered around 16 plain round tables and a few seats inside The Welcome Inn Monday afternoon drinking coffee, watching television, playing card games, and solving crossword puzzles.
With wind chills expected to dip to a bone-chilling minus-30 degreesMonday night, the Royal Oak warming center, an initiative of the non-profit South Oakland Citizens for the Homeless, registered about 50 guests looking to keep warm for the day.
Since 2004, this is what the non-profit has done four months out of the year: provide the basic needs for those looking to take a shower, eat and enjoy the company of others for a few hours.
The Welcome Inn’s lone shuttle bus arrives at 6:30 a.m. Monday through Friday at the non-profit’s home base, the basement of the Starr Presbyterian Church on W. 13 Mile Road.
After checking-in, volunteers provide guests with a breakfast consisting of cereal, bagels and hot coffee. In the afternoon, a hot casserole is served for 79 cents, sometimes with a salad or fruit.
Roy Watson, executive director of the non-profit, said the group, which consists of five part-time employees and over 80 volunteers, has experienced an increase in guests this winter, but the bare-bones operations has constantly kept in motion.
The Welcome Inn’s budget has slid from a high of $100,000 to $80,000 this year, forcing Watson to cut the staff’s hours. The non-profit’s funding comes solely from fundraisers and donations.
“We couldn’t survive without the wonderful community,” Watson said.
The community’s role is big: The Welcome Inn registers about 300 guests each winter, pours more than $2,000 a year into its tattered shuttle bus and prepares 4,000 meals.
James Respecki, a guest of The Welcome Inn from Berkeley, said it’s nice to have “some place you can come down, spend a couple hours, and stay warm.”
Respecki said the warming center has seen an uptick in guests this winter.
Student nurses and interns from Wayne State University’s social worker assist guests with treatment from everything including mental illness to basic colds.
“It’s hard for people to find a place when you got no money,” Respecki said, adding that “you can come (to the warming center) and the get the help you need.”
On top of helping guests receive their state IDs and birth certificates, the non-profit helps them find employment and housing. Watson said a man and woman who were guests of The Welcome Inn eventually became employees of the non-profit.
The couple fell in love, got married, and found full-time work in Florida. They’re now living in Oklahoma with two children, Watson said.
Mary Dorsey, a volunteer of the nonprofit, said the Welcome Inn receives no local, state or federal tax dollars. All clothes, books, and even the staff’s desks are donated.
Dorsey said a woman recently visited looking for a Carhartt winter jacket that outdoor workers may use to brave the cold temperatures.
Except, “She told me she lives outdoors year-round,” Dorsey said.
Elsewhere, dangerously cold temperatures have Animal Care Network Manager Pam Porteous concerned about the welfare of Oakland County’s four-legged residents.
Frostbite can set in “within a matter of minutes,” said Porteous, who’s been with the non-profit animal rescue organization since 1994.
Dogs kept outside should be in an elevated doghouse facing away from the wind that’s not oversized, with a wind flap on the door, unfrozen water, extra food and plenty of clean, dry straw. In such low temperatures, though, Porteous and other volunteers are trying to get owners to bring their pets inside.
“A lot of dogs are so cold that they don’t even want to come out of their doghouses because it’s just so cold for their feet to touch the ground. We rescued a few that had frostbitten feet and legs,” Porteous said of the nonprofit’s patrols in Pontiac over the past weekend.
The neighbors, utility workers, passerby and others who might see an animal in trouble should call Oakland County Animal Control at 248-391-4102, she said.
“Their response time is unbelievable and they’re doing the best they can. Their phone is ringing off the hook, just like ours is,” she said.
“If you see an animal you think needs to be checked on, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Watson, of The Welcome Inn, said the warming center had an impact especially this winter, with numerous days witnessing temperatures barely creeping above zero degrees. This year, the facility will be in full-swing until March 15, he said.
Watson said The Inn this winter, in particular, is “keeping people from freezing to death.”
Anyone interested in volunteering or donating money to The Welcome Inn can contact Watson at 248-885-4881.
Contact staff writer Ryan Felton at 248-745-4654 or firstname.lastname@example.org.