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Cold weather -- and cold realities at the Denver Rescue Mission

Last night was the coldest of the season thus far, and with the bitter chill expected to linger for several more days at least, the Denver Rescue Mission is well over capacity.

According to DRM spokeswoman Greta Walker, 310 people spent the evening at its Lawrence Street shelter. Problem is, there are only 300 beds -- and the demand for meals, which has been rising over the past year, is positively off the charts.

"From July 2008 through June 2009, we served 700,000 meals -- and that's up 100,000 from the year before," Walker says. "We've never seen an increase like that at the Denver Rescue Mission. And it may have escalated since then. We know we've been handing out about 50 percent more food boxes than in previous years comparing month to month."

The DRM knew a space crisis was in the offing. According to Walker, Lawrence Street was at its limits even before last night -- meaning the 200 beds in its dormitory and 100 overflow cots placed in the chapel when required were already filled.

Lucky thing the DRM had already coordinated with organizations such as the Road Home Project and the Department of Human Services to use the Salvation Army's Crossroads Center.

"We do bed check-ins at six o'clock, and also hand out tickets for overflow cots," Walker explains. "After we've given all our tickets, we can then hand another 100 tickets to folks between seven and 8:30 p.m. who are then bused over to the Salvation Army shelter."

In addition, the Lambuth Center and the Delores Project provide places for women and families -- an especially pressing need this year.

"We have a lot of people coming to the Lawrence Street shelter who've never been homeless before," Walker points out. "About 30 percent of the 11,000 men, women and children here who are homeless are newly homeless, because they've lost their job, lost housing. They're just trying to find a safe, warm place to stay and keep their kids safe until they can find a permanent housing solution."

Donations at many nonprofits have been down of late due to well-documented economic turmoil, but the Denver Rescue Mission is currently holding its own, Walker says. Still, she concedes that the increase in services -- particularly in terms of those extra meals -- has created concerns about making ends meet.

In the meantime, Walker adds, "We're definitely in need of coats, waterproof shoes and gloves." Donors can drop them by the Lawrence Street shelter, 1130 Park Avenue West. Which is likely to be packed again tonight.

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