CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With temperatures projected to dip near or below zero degrees through much of West Virginia Monday and Tuesday, going outside might seem like embarking on an Arctic expedition to many area residents.
But for some, staying at home isn't an option -- that's why area homeless shelters and charitable organizations opened their doors a little bit wider Monday to anyone thinking of sleeping outside.
"We're in the shelter business; we have a men's shelter and a women and children's shelter, so it's what we do every day. We've made our staff available and sensitive to every opportunity that comes in order to help people who are in need," said Rex Whiteman, president and CEO of Union Mission, a faith-based group supported entirely through community donations.
Union Mission operates two shelters in Charleston: Crossroads, the agency's men's shelter on Leon Sullivan Way, and the Brookside Family Life Center, a women's and children's shelter on South Park Road.
Crossroads has 76 beds, and Brookside has 35, but Whiteman said Monday that the shelters would take in as many people as they could, and place as many bed rolls on the floor as the space will allow.
"Anyone who walks through our door in crisis, we're there and ready to help them," he said. "We relax our guidelines during a crisis like this and say, 'if you're in need, we're here to help.' We don't want anyone to die of hypothermia or become frostbitten. We will provide food, shelter, clothing -- whatever they need."
Overnight temperatures in Charleston were forecast to reach 6 degrees below zero, said Andrew Beavers, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston. If that happens, it will be the coldest Jan. 7 the weather service has ever recorded in Charleston; the city saw temperatures of minus 3 degrees in 1942.
Emergency warming centers were opened at the Salvation Army on Charleston's West Side and the South Charleston Community Center, among other places. A center that had been opened at the Hansford Center in St. Albans was closed Monday afternoon, but could be reopened if necessary, Kanawha County officials said.
Forty-eight of the state's 55 counties canceled school Monday. By late Monday evening, 53 counties had decided to tell kids not to come to school Tuesday. Davis & Elkins College in Elkins canceled classes as well.
South Charleston canceled garbage collection for Tuesday, the state Ethics Commission canceled a training session in Beckley, and Wheeling Island Racetrack and Casino canceled dog races at the track.
Alex Austin, the CEO of the Roark Sullivan Lifeway Center, said while a common misconception about homeless shelters is that they're not busy during the summer months, he anticipates that the center will have 10 to 15 extra men in the 60-bed shelter during cold spells like the one the area is currently experiencing.
"Typically, we're full year-round," he said. "What we do offer is overflow for these emergency situations. We're not going to turn anyone away and say 'you can't stay here.' We're trying to spread the word to everybody to make sure they know to come in."