Boutwell Auditorium reopens Sunday night

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — As the colder weather moves into the area, the city of Birmingham is reopening Boutwell Auditorium as a warming center. It’s great when the city can do this, but what can be done when the shelters are full and Boutwell is unavailable to house our city’s several thousand homeless men, women and children?

Even when the mercury dips below freezing, many say they stay outdoors.

“I’m just holding on till next month,” says Vernin Dunkling. “And maybe next month I’ll be out of the cold.”

Dunkling became homeless after he could no longer afford his apartment. He had been taking care of his elderly mother. She’s now in a nursing home and he’s on the streets. He’s also one of nearly a hundred men and women seeking refuge in the Boutwell Auditorium. Hot food, a bed, blanket and protection from the chilly weather draws them in.

It gets cold out there,” claims Dunkling. “And sometimes it’s so cold it feels like I’m gonna freeze. My legs be like a chunk of ice in the morning.”

That protection from the cold will also keep them coming back the next three nights, when our overnight lows are expected to dip into the single digits. However sometimes the mercury and the Boutwell don’t mix right. Sometimes an event is scheduled on a night when the temps drop and its not available to be used as a warming station, then everyone scrambles for a plan B.

“Well mostly I try to go to somebody I know,” says Vernin. “You know people that I know and sometimes that works and sometimes that don’t.” And if that doesn’t work? We ask. “I just have to get me a sleeping bag and get in a parking deck somewhere.”

“You go and see you family,” states Ray Hayes. “If you have family, you go home and see your family.”

Others say you just rough it and do your best to survive.

Is it tough on nights when there isn’t a shelter? We ask. “Immensely, immensely,” says Rasta who goes by the street name Lo-Lo. “There’s been times I was out here in this weather wanting to ball like a baby.”

The Boutwell Auditorium is co-ed and welcome to anyone needing a warm place to stay for the night for any reason. It will be open tonight through Wednesday night. The hours are six p.m. through eight a.m.

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