Coronavirus pandemic could leave some people out in the freezing cold

Salvation Army shelters ‘at capacity’ ahead of tonight’s frigid temps

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – As she pushed an empty wheelchair up and down San Pedro Avenue on Monday morning, Mary Balenger was not only passing the time but also trying to keep warm.

She had nowhere to be and no place to go after what she says was a frigid night outdoors.

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“It’s cold,” Balenger said. “We slept in that parking lot last night and we froze last night. It was cold.”

The “we” to whom she referred was herself and her husband.

Balenger said rather than risk separation in a shelter, they choose to sleep on the streets.

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With freezing temperatures in the forecast for Monday night, they could be in for another rough night.

“We just bundle up with a bunch of blankets. That’s how we stay warm,” Balenger said, referring to her plans for the night.

Even if they were to change their minds about staying in a shelter, though, they could be out of luck.

“We’re expected to be at capacity again. We were actually at capacity last night,” said Brad Mayhar with the Salvation Army.

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The term, “at capacity” has a new meaning in these days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayhar said due to social distancing rules, the Salvation Army shelter is utilizing only about half of its beds.

Even in this cold weather emergency, some people could be out in the cold.

“(In) normal years, we offered them a blanket and allowed them the opportunity, if they choose to do so, to stay in our lobby,” Mayhar said. “Now with COVID, we’re not able to offer them the opportunity to stay in the lobby. We can offer them a blanket, but they have to take it with them.

Turning away anyone in need is the last thing the agency wants to do, Mayhar said.

“It is a very vulnerable population,” he said. “They’re out there exposed to the elements, and we serve as many of them as we can.”

However, under this current climate, the Salvation Army may not have a choice.

KSAT 12 News also reach out to Haven for Hope about its cold weather emergency shelter plans. A spokesman was not able to offer details right away on how the pandemic might impact the shelter.

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About the Authors

Katrina Webber joined KSAT 12 in December 2009. She reports for Good Morning San Antonio. Katrina was born and raised in Queens, NY, but after living in Gulf Coast states for the past decade, she feels right at home in Texas. It's not unusual to find her singing karaoke or leading a song with her church choir when she's not on-air.

Tim has been a photojournalist and video editor at KSAT since 1998. He came to San Antonio from Lubbock, where he worked in TV and earned his bachelor's degree in Electronic Media and Communication from Texas Tech University. Tim has won a handful of awards and has earned a master's in Strategic Communication and Innovation from Tech as well.

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