Providing Shelter in the Storm

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Superstorm Sandy threw life into chaos for many in West Virginia, and that in turn created a challenge for the people whose job it is to help others. Raleigh County Community Action (RCCAA) runs the largest homeless shelter in the state, and the Beckley facility is often strained to the limits on a normal day.

Executive director Bobbie Thomas-Bailey says they knew they were in for it when Pine Haven was declared an emergency relief shelter ahead of the storm. And she says the staff also knew the folks coming in would be depending on them, even if the roads were impassible.

“The homeless shelter was staffed with people who had come in on Monday and just spent the night so they would be able to be there on Tuesday. Dedicated staff – that makes it easy for me.”

Thomas-Bailey says this is the second time Pine Haven has served as an emergency shelter. She says they served 1,400 meals to people hit by last summer’s derecho storms.

When Sandy struck, Thomas-Bailey says RCCAA provided a number of services, including transportation to help people get medical care. She says even though the homeless shelter was already full, they had to make room.

“People who normally try to live in their cars, or in places not meant for human habitation, came in to the shelter, but we were full. The National Guard brought us some additional cots, and we were able to clean out some rooms and put cots down.”

Thomas-Bailey says a lot of the staff had their own electricity knocked out, but came in anyway.

“A lot of them were without power; I myself was without power, with four kids at home. It was interesting; they had to learn to live without video games and television for a couple of days, but they managed.”

For the first time, she says, her kids had to learn what a board game was.

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