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Paducah warming shelter moves to a local church for the winter season

Picture of Washington Street Baptist Church
Dixie Lynn, WKMS Public Radio
Washington Street Baptist Church

After some uncertainty about the future of Paducah’s warming shelter this upcoming winter, community leaders and organizations came together to open a warming shelter Thursday night at a local church.

Washington Street Baptist Church will be hosting a warming center using their church facilities from now to March 2022 for any night when the low temperature is 40 degrees or lower.

Tommy Hollimon of the Paducah Housing Authority reached out to Washington Street Baptist Church on behalf of the local United Way and other partners, asking if the church would be the next sponsor for the warming center. After speaking to his church board, Pastor Raynarldo Henderson said was excited to accept the project on behalf of his congregation.

“I went back to our board and threw it at them, told them some of the challenges we have had as a congregation after the pandemic,” Henderson said. “And, by the next time I talked to Brother Tommy, they had all this money and all these volunteers. And, it would’ve been a sin to say no.”

For the last seven years, nonprofit Community Kitchen hosted Paducah’s main warming shelter for people in-need by offering them food and a place to sleep. But as the years went by, the project started to grow larger than what the nonprofit could handle. Community Kitchen Director Sally Michelson said it got to a point where it was too much to manage.

“Our main mission was to feed, and it got to where it was harder,” Michelson said. “We had to switch our rooms every night, take all the tables and chairs down and put up the cots and beds. And then, we served meals too.”

Michelson tried to reach out to the local Salvation Army, hoping to have the warming shelter moved to their facilities. But an agreement couldn’t be reached.

“So we just decided that we would see if the community would get more involved,” Michelson said.

Michelson then reached out to the United Way of Paducah-McCracken County chapter to see what could be done.

United Way Paducah Community Impact Manager Anne Bidwell remembers receiving the call.

“Initially, when they called to let us know that the service couldn't be provided, part of it was because they really valued what they were doing and valued the people,’ she said. “But, they really needed it to be more of a collaborative effort with the community.”

Bidwell said the United Way deals in community advocacy on behalf of other agencies and services, which included the local warming shelter.

“One agency came to us with stated needs, and we involved other groups, agencies, governments, and businesses to try and come to a solution for the community,” Bidwell said.

When the call was sent out to assist the warming center, multiple different organizations in the Paducah and McCracken County local area pitched in to help.

Community Kitchen donated all their cots and linens to the Washington Street Baptist Church, along with its policies and procedures that Anne Bidwell said helped avoid them from “reinventing the wheel” for the shelter.

Community Kitchen along with some local churches are also helping to offset the cost that the church might incur with increased maintenance and paying for security fees.

Wild Health will be offering rapid test COVID-19 screening and vaccines for visitors to the shelter. Mercy Health-Lourdes Hospital will also be giving flu shots to those at the shelter.

The biggest contributors to the warming shelter, according to Tommy Hollimon with the Paducah Housing Authority, are the men and women of Washington Street Baptist church.

“They’re working on electrical work. They’re setting up computers for registration. They’ve done the cleaning. They’ve made sure the whole building is working, so [Pastor Henderson’s] staff is giving everything they can.”

Henderson also spoke about his philosophy and thoughts toward the undertaking.

“The church is leaving the building, and we begin in practical ways to live out the gospel. In practical ways, we live out what we believe Jesus teaches us. So now, we’re opening up, Henderson said. “We’re offering shelter. We’re offering food. We know those are the teachings of Jesus.”

Henderson, who was also elected as a city commissioner last year, said Paducah isn’t exempt from addressing homelessness like other cities in America.

“Our homeless population is growing. And so, it’s significant that if I go home at night and have a good meal, and if I’m warm in a warm bed, then I think everybody should have that same opportunity,” Henderson said.

Henderson also emphasized the warming shelter is only a temporary fix and not a solution to the growing homelessness issue. He said there is still more work to be done in the local area, mentioning that city leadership is working to put together a “comprehensive program” to address homelessness in the community.

“I already know our mayor and city commission is already talking about homelessness. A study is being done as we speak. So, we have not buried our heads in the sand,” Henderson said. “And hopefully, who knows? We can beat homelessness in Paducah.”

The Washington Street Baptist Church is located at 739 Washington Street, Paducah, KY. It will be open 5:30-10:00 p.m. CST, serving those in-need on a first-come-first-serve basis.

The Purchase District Health Department and the Paducah Fire Department recommended a 20 person capacity for the shelter. Visitors to the shelter are encouraged to bring a Photo I.D. for registration though it is not required. Local police will also screen guests to ensure public safety.

To learn more about how to donate items and resources or to find ways to volunteer in service of the warming shelter, information can be found at the United Way’s platform,

Zacharie Lamb is a music major at Murray State University and is a Graves County native.
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