Warming tent setup for homeless in Merced County

Merced County, Calif.

The Merced County Rescue Mission has opened a "warming tent" on the old juvenile hall recreation on the corner of 13th and B Streets in Merced.

Volunteers started putting up the tent in the late afternoon as soon as Merced County Supervisors gave them the go ahead to put the tent up.

Bruce Metcalf who heads the Rescue Mission says the need for the tent in the community is huge. He estimates there are anywhere from 300 to 500 homeless people living in Merced County. He says about half of them are sleeping on the streets or in encampments.

This is the second year the Rescue Mission put up the tent. Last year, it was put up outside their building but Metcalf says the 13th and B Street location is better.

"We're only two blocks now from the D street shelter and if the shelter and the rescue mission both fill up, they can come her," Metcalf explained.

Their rescue mission has been full the past few nights. They can only take about 20 walk-ins because of the space in their building. Many of them start coming in doors before 6 p.m.

"It was so cold (outside) my blankets had frost on them," a woman staying at the mission said. She started sleeping at the mission on Dec. 4.

There was no room at the mission for Tom Flowers, who ended up spending Tuesday night inside the "warming tent." He took a spot right next to a heater to stay warm.

"The frost is not going to get on you and the cold is out," Flowers said. "We'd be out on the street on the curb so I do appreciate it."

The Merced County Sheriff's Department is investigating whether or not freezing night temperatures played a part in a handful of deaths.

Flowers knows the low temperatures can be dangerous and says it's not worth the risk sleeping out in the elements. That's why he decided to sleep in the tent.

"By no means is it nice," he said. "It's nasty, its cold, its miserable but it's better than the other side of that (tarp) over there.

The warming tent will remain up until the end of March. It will be open from 8 p.m. until 7 a.m. The mission provides dinner and breakfast to those who spend the night.

The Merced County Rescue Mission is looking for volunteers to help overnights.

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