- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A St. Louis recreation center has become a refuge for the homeless this winter.

By day, the 12th and Park Recreation Center provides a gymnasium for basketball and other activities. For 36 nights this winter, it has been turned into an emergency shelter, necessitated by the bitter winter weather. The center was used as an emergency shelter just 13 times last winter.

Former Army sergeant Hence Forland is paid $1,000 a day to be responsible for transforming the center from a gym to a shelter. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1fVrO00 ) reports that each evening at 6 p.m., Forland and a small crew arrive to set it up. They unfold cots and blankets and place them in neat rows across the gym floor. He spends the night to keep the peace, often with little or no sleep.

Workers from St. Louis Crisis Nursery sign people in, while Salvation Army volunteers prepare a hot meal.

When morning arrives, those staying at the shelter must leave to make way for another day of recreation.

On Wednesday evening, people gathered outside along the curb. Someone complained about the slow pace of getting in.

“People,” Forland, 63, said. “You’re gonna get in here. We’re gonna feed you, and we’re gonna put you down.”

By 9 p.m., 143 people had signed in for the night.

“It’s been a long winter,” said Bill Siedhoff, director of the St. Louis Human Service Department.

It’s far from over; Cold and more snow are forecast over the next week.

“House rules!” Forland announced in the lobby as he placed a poster-sized placard on an easel, citing rules that include no drugs, no alcohol, no weapons. “Very important. Don’t forget we are guests here, and we have to act accordingly.”

Quiet hours are from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Those who leave for more than 15 minutes risk losing their cot.

“I’ve stayed in a lot of shelters. This is basically the one I really like the best,” said Linda Tisdale, 47, who was at the shelter with her 9-year-old son Lavonce.

The chronically homeless often have mental and substance abuse problems. So many homeless in one room can be a challenge.

“We’ve had a couple of incidents where people have gotten into it,” Siedhoff said. “Some of the folks have history, and it didn’t go quite well and they say, ‘Make sure he is not put near me,’ and we make sure they are situated so that is not the case.”

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