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story.lead_photo.caption The Randy Sams' Outreach Shelter managed to help those seeking a warm place to stay during last week's severe winter weather. The shelter is able to accommodate residents for both emergency and non-emergency purposes. Photo by Greg Bischof / Texarkana Gazette.

TEXARKANA, Texas — While the past week's winter cold blast didn't add high numbers of people to the Randy Sams' Outreach Shelter, some seemed to find the place just in time.

Shelter resident James Vessey said he arrived in the area from California around Feb. 7 looking for a more affordable place to live than what the West Coast had to offer.

"I had just moved here to Texas a week ago from California," Vessey, who had also previously lived in Alaska and Arizona, said. "I had family in Dallas and friends in Texarkana. I got to the shelter Feb. 12, right before the weather turned cold. At the time, I didn't have a place to stay so a friend recommended the shelter to me. For me this is the first time to be in shelter."

Randy Sams Homeless Shelter resident Luis Rivera found a warmer place to stay during last week's cold winter weather blast. Rivera, who usually lives in a "Tent City" area near the shelter, was able to stay at Randy Sams as well as a local motel.
Photo by Greg Bischof/Texarkana Gazette.

Vessey said he's found the shelter to be warm with good food and accommodations.

"So far I've been looking for a job and I'm guessing that I'll find some work. I've been wanting to move this far east because living is far more affordable out here."

For others, like Luis Rivera, shelter officials seeking to adhere to the COVID-19 precautionary measures found him accomodations at the Shamrock Motel, where he could stay warm.

Prior to the below-freezing temperatures, Rivera, initially from New York, had been living in "Tent City " not far from the shelter for about three years, he said. "I've been going out of town to work three and four days a week at a time, to lay asphalt."

Rivera added that the he will be able to stay at the motel until the weather improves.

"The Randy Sams Shelter have their people drop by every once in a while to check on me and make sure I have things to eat," he said.

Local resident Scott Hamm came to the shelter about five months ago following his release from prison after serving time on a Driving While Intoxicated charge he received during the New Year's holiday of 2020.

"During my time in prison, I lost my house and my job. So I had nowhere else to go home to when I got out of jail," Hamm said.

"Right now, I'm working on seeing if I can be accepted into the shelter's Doorways program. Its a program offered by the shelter and it tries to set up housing for the residents. They are working on this right now for me."

Hamm added that he as been able eat and sleep well at the shelter.

"I've never been homeless before, so I had some anxiety about it at first. But it's gotten easier through the months," he said. "The shelter has become my home for now — and I'm getting back to normal."

Shelter resident and U.S. Army veteran Robert Thompson of Nash said he wasn't able to work following heart surgery last year, causing him to lose his home.

"I wasn't able to keep up with the bills so I had to move out of the house and come here to the shelter for the first time in my life." Thompson said. "I got here in November because I had to miss work and I didn't have the finances to pay my bills. This is my first time in this shelter."

Thompson said he is taking medication for his heart and he is coming along well.

"I've got a job pending and I think I will be able to leave by the end of the month," he said.

Shelter resident Kenneth Neely said he has been living in the shelter since January because of family drug problems.

"This is about my fourth or fifth time here, but I feel lucky to have a place to eat and sleep. And I've been able to come a long way in starting to come back to the person I really am," Neely said. "Getting back to work is my main thing now. I think I will be able to go back to work after this snow. This shelter has been a great place to learn how to come back to being my better self."

Shelter Executive Director Jennifer Lacefield said throughout this past week's winter storm about 70 people sought help from the shelter, which either accommodated them directly or put set them up in motels.

"We have about 47 residents here at the shelter and we can hold 55. But because of COVID-19 we have had to put some people up in local motels," Lacefield said. She went on to say the recent cold weather has cut down on shelter donations of needed items such as paper products, cleaning supplies and food items such as ground beef and dry cereal.

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