Gaia House provides overnight shelters to homeless during subzero temperatures


Shopping carts filled with personal belongings Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, outside the Gaia House Interfaith Center in Carbondale. Gaia House is serving as an emergency warming station for the homeless this winter. (Mary Newman | @MaryNewmanDE)​

By Amelia Blakely, Campus Editor

For two years, James ‘California’ Hayes has been sleeping rough on the streets of Carbondale.

“I used to be somebody,” Hayes said.

Originally from Monterey County, California, Hayes found himself in Anna two years as a stranded commercial truck driver when he became homeless.


Before being homeless, Hayes said he was a police officer in Salinas, California and assisted homeless in finding shelter and giving them money to buy food.

With plummeting temperatures in Carbondale and no place to call home, Hayes said he has been struggling to cope with the freeze.

Hayes has been seeking shelter in the Gaia house since Jan. 1 to escape from the temperatures.

Hayes leaves the Gaia house during the day and walks his way around the icy streets of Carbondale to find warm shelter, frequently using Burger King as a warm refuge.

“Everything in my cart froze,” Hayes said. “I was trying to save as much as could to get where I wanna be.”

Hayes said he dislikes Carbondale and wants to be in Los Angeles.

Since Jan. 1 the Gaia house has served the Carbondale community as a warm place to sleep for the homeless during subzero temperature days and nights.  


Fern Chappell, a board member of the Gaia house, said the interfaith center is the only warming station for those in need in the region and is open from 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.

She said the center is open for everyone, and cash, supplies, or time donations would be greatly appreciated.

This upcoming week southern Illinois is expecting more freezing temperatures, not reaching higher than 30 degrees.

In the past, temperatures during the week of Jan. 7 have reached up to 64 degrees but have also dropped to 16 degrees, according to a commercial internet weather service, Weather Underground.

Everett Keeter, a volunteer for the Gaia house, said for the past week it has been closed because of a lack of funding and warming temperatures, but reopened on Jan. 12.

“We’ll keep doing it till it warms up,” Keeter said. “It’s too cold to be out there at night.”

Keeter has been one of the few volunteers for the Gaia house who has been assisting those in need of a warm place to sleep.

He said the center has called around the community looking for volunteers, but the search has been unsuccessful.

Keeter said he was unsure why people have been so reluctant to help but believed a reason may be because people fear the homeless.

“The reason I do, is because I’ve been there,” Keeter said.

Keeter was homeless in Atlanta for approximately eight to nine months.

Then he joined Atlanta Union Missions, a nonprofit christian ministry service that had a sobriety program.

“I got clean, stayed sober, and I got a job with the city of Atlanta at the housing authority,” Keeter said.

The Gaia house serves from two to six people every night when they are open and is appealing for any volunteers who are able to help.

Campus Editor Amelia Blakely can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @AmeilaBlakely.

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