PASCO — Snow and ice on the ground doesn't mean some homeless people in the Tri-Cities won't be sleeping outdoors.
Even as many were crowding into the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission's shelters in Pasco because temperatures threatened to dip as low as 1 degree Tuesday night, "There are a lot of people still sleeping outside," said Andrew Porter, mission assistant executive director.
On Monday night, 102 men found shelter at the mission. What that means is that the 45 beds are full, and the rest are sleeping on mats in the mission chapel and the day room, Porter said.
One man waiting to get lunch Tuesday told Porter that it was getting too cold for his sleeping bag. He had slept outside the previous night.
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Inside the men's shelter, Kurt Kocher, 51, of Richland, was one of many who had a mat on the floor.
"I was just thankful for that," he said.
Meanwhile, the next door women's shelter had 13 women on Monday night, said Michele Howell, women's shelter assistant.
Normally, shelter clients are out during the day looking for work. But Jerry Jones, mission food service manager, said the cold kept some in and meant that the mission provided 61 meals for them instead of the more normal 30.
But Kocher said he went to Worksource Columbia Basin in Kennewick on Tuesday, like he has been, to search for work.
He said he came to the mission for the first time two weeks ago. He was released from Benton County jail after pleading guilty to second-degree assault.
The mission has a lot of restrictions, such as sleeping times and attending chapel, Kocher said. But the food is good, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable.
The mission needs a larger facility, Kocher said. The tight quarters create some tension between those staying there.
Russell Barnes, 42, of Richland, said he has seen the number of men the mission is serving skyrocket since he arrived 19 months ago.
"It's absolutely doubled," he said. "And that's not an exaggeration."
Barnes, who works at the mission's front desk and in the clothing room, graduated from the mission's faith-based New Life program last week. He said he came to the mission because of financial difficulties and alcohol use, and said the New Life program has helped provide him with structure.
Barnes, who was a union pipe fitter, said he hopes to rejoin the union and work at the Hanford vitrification plant.
Eddie Mendoza, 30, of Kennewick, said Tuesday afternoon chapel had the most people he has seen attend since he came to the mission seven months ago.
Mendoza, who works in the mission's food pantry, sleeps in the New Life dorm in the men's shelter because he is participating in the 13-month program.
Mendoza said he used drugs and alcohol before he came to the mission.
The mission has been trying to find a solution to the need for more space.
Officials have become concerned that they might have to turn men away for the first time.
Typically, the number at the men's shelter increases by 10 percent to 15 percent once winter hits. But the mission didn't see the normal decrease in spring and summer, and already is full.
On Tuesday night, Porter said they planned to house anyone who needed it, even if it means men will be sitting up in chairs.
"I don't want them to freeze," he said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; email@example.com