LaDonna Johnson and two of her children sat at a cafeteria table eating a lunch of hotdogs and chips, the same as many other residents at The Salvation Army of Tyler.
Six days ago, Ms. Johnson, her longtime boyfriend and her four children were evicted from their two-bedroom apartment after they were unable to pay rent.
Ms. Johnson, 25, had lost her job working in housekeeping at a local hospital. Although her boyfriend recently got a job as a cook at a fast-food restaurant, the income was too little too late.
"We just got so far behind, we just weren't able to catch up," she said.
Their situation brought them to The Salvation Army on Wednesday - the second time Ms. Johsnon and her kids have stayed in the shelter. The other time was two years ago.
Ms. Johnson said she was scheduled to meet with a caseworker and also had a job interview scheduled. The plan is for the couple to save up some funds and start over again.
"We're survivors," she said.
The family members were among 149 people who checked into the shelter on Sunday night. The Salvation Army runs a 200-bed facility at its Center of Hope Shelter on North Broadway Avenue, but it has the ability to shelter 400 people in all by setting up an additional 200 beds, primarily cots, in other facilities.
The upcoming winter months typically mean an increase in people needing shelter as they try to get out of the cold, wet weather. Last year's November average was 150 occupants per night.
But the shelter is not just about meeting housing needs; it takes care of housing as a way to jump start long-term change.
Lindsey Galabeas, The Salvation Army's community and public relations coordinator, said the length of time a person stays at the shelter is determined on a case-by-case basis.
When residents check in to the shelter for an indefinite length of time, they are assigned a case manager.
That person meets with them and helps to assess their needs and determine how the organization can help address them.
The nonprofit organization also provides housing for participants in its chemical dependency program called Reconnect.
Thirty rooms house four adults each, and 15 are private rooms for families. People can stay for up to two years, but the Salvation Army's goal is to find permanent housing for people within 30 days or as soon as possible, according to information provided by Ms. Galabeas.
While staying in the shelter, residents receive case management services, food, clothing, medical and dental prescription assistance and transportation.
Each shelter resident is required to meet with a case manager at least once a week to address their situation. This can include working on goal setting, a budget, a timeline for permanent housing and addressing barriers to independence and sustainability.
Last year, The Salvation Army served almost 11,500 people (unduplicated) with a variety of services, according to an email from Ms. Galabeas.
IMPROVING THE SHELTER
In an effort to improve the conditions of the shelter, the nonprofit is raising money to refurnish all 45 rooms (30 dorm rooms and 15 family rooms) at its Center of Hope Shelter.
The campaign is called Adopt-A-Room. It will cost about $5,500 to replace the furniture in each four-person dorm room, and the nonprofit has 23 dorm rooms available for sponsorship. Any amount of money can be donated toward the total. The goal is to finish the refurnishing by spring 2016.
Ginny Reinhart, The Salvation Army's grants and development coordinator, said the furniture is old and wooden, the latter of which they learned is not the best option for a shelter.
It has not been replaced since the shelter opened in 2003. In addition, the furniture has been highly susceptible to bed bugs, which can burrow into the wood or hide in the mattresses.
The new furniture will be metal and will include mattresses with inverted seams, both factors designed to minimize, if not, eliminate bed bug issues.
The new furniture will include twin beds with under-bed storage, desks and wardrobes. Current furniture is the same minus the under-bed storage.
The desire is to provide residents with dignity while they stay there and help them get back on their feet as soon as possible.
"It's a blessing," John Taylor, 32, of Shreveport, Louisiana, said of the shelter. Taylor and his wife, Tiffany Keyes, 32, got stuck in Tyler when a job opportunity fell through and they ran out of cash. They came to the shelter on Friday and hope to get a bus ticket back to Louisiana as soon as possible.
"We don't come to these kind of places unless we have to," Ms. Keyes said.
How to help
To donate to the Adopt-A-Room campaign, call 903-592-4361, mail checks to 633 N. Broadway Ave., Tyler, Texas 75702, or donate online at www.salvationarmytexas.org/tyler/adopt-a-room. Donations must be designated "Adopt-A-Room."
A plaque will be put up in honor of those individuals, groups and organizations that adopt one of the dorm rooms. However, any amount is appreciated.
Other ways to help The Salvation Army this holiday season include:
Volunteer to serve as a Red Kettle Campaign bell ringer. Bell ringing in Tyler will start Nov. 30. The annual Red Kettle Campaign is one of The Salvation Army of Tyler's primary fundraisers and accounts for about one-fourth of the agency's budget. Go to redkettlevolunteer.org for more information or to volunteer.
Select an angel from The Salvation Army's Angel Tree. The Angel Tree program will kick off at 10 a.m. Friday at Broadway Square Mall in the lobby by J.C. Penney and Chick-fil-A. Through the program, which involves people selecting an "angel" to buy gifts for, The Salvation Army provides food, clothing and toys for children and senior citizens who might not be able to get those things otherwise.