PETERSBURG, Va. — Shawn Wise was walking to his small encampment underneath the Martin Luther Bridge on Friday evening when he was surprised by police and what they had to tell him.
"They were here to tell me about this center, this warming station," Wise said.
Like many homeless in the Tri-Cities, Wise found themselves living outside in severe winter conditions. No shelters were open, with lows in the low double and single digits.
Marlow Jones, who was just elected to Petersburg's City Council, knew the weekend's cold temperatures could be deadly, so he reached out online to see if anyone would open up a building.
"He called me up, he said, man, you can use my building to do the warming station. And we took it from there," Jones said.
Corey Wesson saw Marlow's plea and spoke with his family.
"She was like, use the studio. You aren't doing anything else with it right now. Go ahead and let people stay there," Wesson said.
Within hours of the decision, homeless residents like Wise were out of the cold.
"It provided me with warmth. It provided me with food. Loving, caring people," Wise said.
Soon, others from the community and Central Virginia were lending a hand.
"Blankets and sleeping bags," Jones said. "It's not permanent, so we want to make sure we understand that, but it's here to keep people out of the cold," Jones said.
"We can try as long as we can, but you know, the business has to go back and just, next step is, where are they going to go?" Wesson said.
The private warming shelter did exactly what the people who opened it intended to do. It got about a dozen people who would have been outside in the cold and wind inside a warm building.