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      Cold weather forces homeless off the street

      Men line up to get a hot meal at the Oliver Gospel Mission.

      As the Sun goes down, so does the temperature across the Midlands.

      You don TMt get this kind of weather real often, says Wayne Fields, and so that means that people whether you TMre homeless or not, are not quite ready for the gloves and heavy coats.

      One thing Wayne Fields of Columbia TMs Oliver Gospel Mission is ready for is the influx of people seeking shelter. In Richland and Lexington counties alone, the homeless population is estimated at roughly 1,000.

      The Oliver Gospel Mission serves up to 300 hot meals a day.

      We have seen an ongoing increase in the need for our food service, said Fields.

      Volunteer Kenneth Merritt knows first-hand how important the shelter is because he was living in a facility similar to the Oliver Gospel Mission, while recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

      It TMs very important, says Kenneth Merritt. I can TMt stress it enough. You know this place cannot operate with the generosity of the people who contribute to it.

      The non-profit organization operates on donations from individuals, churches, and businesses.

      And now more than ever is it important for it to stay open.

      What we do in cold weather, when it TMs 40 degrees or below at night, says Fields, we open up extra space for people to sleep and that space has been filled every night.

      Although cold temperatures affect the numbers in area shelters, volunteers like Merritt understand homelessness is an ongoing problem that doesn TMt go away with the change in seasons.

      If you'd like to give back to the community, here's your opportunity: On Saturday, January 9th, at Dutch Square Center you can donate coats, hats and gloves.

      Volunteers will deliver the much needed item to the Oliver Gospel Mission and the Hannah House Shelter for Women and Children. The event runs from 11:00 to 2:00 p.m..