PUEBLO, Colo. (KRDO) -- The expected arrival of snow and subfreezing temperatures overnight Thursday accelerated the opening of the new Porchlight Emergency Warming Shelter, managed by the nearby Pueblo Rescue Mission.
The Mission acquired the property -- half of a former strip mall along 4th Street downtown -- less than a week ago and officials wanted to open it the night before Mayor Nick Gradisar's emergency declaration of temporary housing and shelter became effective.
"We have decided to start early because it's a holiday and we wanted people to be inside, be safe and be warm," said shelter manager Lori Arabie.
The new shelter is less than a block from the Mission and a previous shelter that operated last winter but has since closed, creating the need for another, larger facility.
Mission officials said that the new building doubles the Mission's capacity to nearly 200.
Arabie called the opening "a good start" and hopes the shelter will expand in the future.
"Any nonprofit will tell you, you don't know what finances are going to be, on a daily basis or a monthly basis," she explained. We run on donations alone."
The Mission said that the new shelter will be in greater demand this winter because local churches are no longer providing temporary shelter space.
"A lot of them choose not to do that," Arabie explained. "They don't know the people like we do. So, they're kind of skeptical about it."
She also said that Mission staff have stopped their routine of driving around town in vans, to talk with people experiencing homelessness and convince them to stay in shelters during cold weather.
"I was surprised," Arabie recalled. "The people whom we stopped and tried to help, actually cursed us -- leave me alone or I will call the police. I'm not leaving. I'm staying right here."
The new shelter will be divided into areas for males and females; cots will be provided to sleep on, restrooms are available ad some snacks will be provided.
"How long they can stay will depend on how cold it is outside," Arabie said.
The Mission also decided to allow a limited number of pets at the shelter, for the first time.
"We can't allow pets to stay with their owners, but they can stay in kennels that we provide," Arabie said. "Banning pets has been a major drawback in getting people to come to shelters because the homeless don't want to leave their pets."
Officials hope that vacancies in the former strip mall will eventually be filled by agencies that can provide a variety of services to the homeless at the same location.