Groups organize ‘movie night’ to help homeless get warm

Dec 16, 2022, 10:45 PM | Updated: Dec 17, 2022, 12:19 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Advocacy groups were working around the clock Friday, organizing an “overnight movie night” to get more people off the streets amid frigid temperatures that began Thursday and were expected to continue through the weekend.

There may never be a comfortable or safe time of the year to spend the night on the streets. But on bitter nights like the ones we’re experiencing this week, the streets are especially uncomfortable and dangerous.

Homeless advocacy groups told KSL they knew of at least three people who had died on the streets this week due to the cold temperatures.

“Bitterly cold. Miserable,” said David Weathers, who said he’s been living on the streets off and on for the last 10 years.

“Scared because I don’t know if I’m going to make it through the night because of the cold.”

Weathers was staying on a block, covered with people huddling together on the sidewalk for warmth. A couple of people had even started small fires on the sidewalk to try and stay warm. But on Friday, many like Weathers were also given a chance to get off the streets.

“I really empathize with this population. Homelessness is a mental health crisis,” Kseniya Kniazeva said.

Kniazeva knows what it’s like to be homeless. Now, as the executive director of the Nomad Alliance, she’s working to improve the lives of people on the streets, which is why she jumped at the opportunity to help bring them inside when it matters most.

The idea came from Wendy Garvin with Unsheltered Utah. As the temperatures were falling Thursday, Garvin said she reached out to Salt Lake City.

“What are we going to do? These temperatures are lethal,” she remembers asking. “We just want them to survive.”

Garvin ultimately took matters into her own hands and called First United Methodist Church to ask if they could use their facility that night.

Pastor AJ Bush said when she got the call, “I really felt like this was an opportunity to be an angel to the community.”

“Or mission here at the church is to turn closed doors into open tables. This was a literal way we could open our doors and have people come in, get off the streets, be warm, be safe and know they have a place where they belong.”

Other organizations also jumped on board like Nomad Alliance and Our Unsheltered Relatives (O.U.R.’s) and in a matter of hours they set up—not a shelter inside the church—but what they call an overnight movie night.

Kniazeva said many people who are homeless need another place to go other than a shelter because they have pets or they have been incarcerated or experienced violence or theft inside shelters.

By 8pm Thursday night, they were ready to receive people into the church. 36 people came. Some they even went and picked up. They expected that number to jump to 75 people on Friday night.

“This is a miracle that transpired in mere hours to give them that other option and I know we saved lives last night,” Kniazeva said.

“Do what you can, where you can, when you can. And I think that this is just something we can do,” said Carl Moore with O.U.R.’s. “This is really to help the people. To help people to survive.”

Inside the church, the people who came were offered drinks, snacks, a place to sit, movies to watch and most importantly a place to get out of the cold.

“It’s real helpful. Really really a blessing,” Weathers said.

The First United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City will open their doors from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights when temperatures are supposed to be the coldest.

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Groups organize ‘movie night’ to help homeless get warm