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As temperatures drop, overburdened St. Francis House opens doors to Gainesville homeless

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Several chilly nights across North Central Florida have come as a surprise for late March.

At the St. Francis House in Gainesville, staff and volunteers are working to ensure that those who can’t always get out of the cold have a place to go.

One employee, Director of Operations Lee Smith, has had a busy week.

“One night, we had as many as 54 people here, and the average is in the high 30s,” he said. “It keeps us a lot busier, and we have to be a little more resourceful.”

When temperatures dip below 45 degrees, they open their doors to anyone needing protection from the cold. That policy comes as welcome relief to those like Keith Martin, who has stayed at the shelter all week.

“Blankets, you stay warm, a bed,” he said, “it gives you a different feel than being out in the wide open.”

Martin, like other overnight residents, received a warm bed for the night and a hot breakfast the next day.

“(With) these unfortunate temperatures, you have somewhere to go for warmth and a feel of home,” Martin said.

Still, these unexpected cold snaps take a toll on St. Francis House.

“We’re cooking for that many more people,” Smith said, “so it does put a drain on our resources.”

St. Francis House is currently seeking breakfast item donations and bath towels. Those items can be dropped off at their Gainesville office, 413 S. Main Street.

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