Chattanooga Community Kitchen prepares for dangerously cold weather

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) – Chattanooga’s homeless, and those with inadequate shelter, can find some shelter from the dangerous cold expected next week.

Organizations that are dedicated to helping that community are prepared for the worst. And that includes one that has a totally different mission.

Chattanooga’s Community Kitchen on 11th St feeds the homeless, and those down on their luck, 3 times a day/7 days a week/ all year long. But when the weather presents a definite health threat, the staff at the kitchen take on a different role.

Chattanooga Community Kitchen CEO, Jens Christensen says, “We’re open every day of the year here at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, and we offer three meals a day. So we serve breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day, and of course we have program shelters. We have a family night shelter, we have permanent supportive housing, we have a ton of other programs that help people get off the streets. So the cold weather shelter is seasonal, and it’s for folks that would otherwise be outside and actually risking exposure.”

No one seems to have an accurate county of how many people are homeless in the city. But cold weather fills the building at night and Christensen says the kitchen can put out 120 mats on the dining room floor.

“It’s been cold! We’ve got a lot of people inside, outside that are coming here for, you know, a moment of warmth throughout the day, and of course we’re open over night as well, so we’ve had about a hundred people a night sleeping on the floor here. Downstairs and upstairs in the day center.”

Cold winter weather can be fatal for the city’s most vulnerable people. It’s happened many times over the years.

Christensen says, “If you’re outside and you’re caught, and especially off guard in this kind of temperature, people actually can die from exposure. And that’s really the purpose of the cold weather warming shelter. It’s to prevent an exposure related death, it’s to give people a warm place out of the weather, to escape that frigid cold.”

The Community Kitchen is primarily a feeding station and a place to sleep during weeks like this.

“Right now, we’re opening up at 7:30 after kind of shutting down at 5 to set the mats up and put the tables and chairs away. And then re-opening as a warming shelter so that people can come in and not be cold out on the street. I think one of the officers who works night shift here on occasion said it best when he said, ‘No one should die because it’s cold’.”

Kimberly George of the Salvation army says her organization will handle any overflow from the Community Kitchen during the week-long freeze.

That would mean, anyone who shows up after the Kitchen reaches its 120 person capacity.

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