The homeless in Durham are not invisible. People drive past them daily as they panhandle at a busy intersections or huddle together in tent communities in the woods.
When temperatures drop, advocates visit those homeless camps and other places where people don't have a roof over their heads, urging them to seek shelter where it's safe and warm.
The Rev. Ernie Mills makes room for every homeless person who needs it and on Monday said, "I thank God for the safety net of the Durham Rescue Mission."
The Reverend Ernie Mills plans to add more beds at @RescueDurham to help homeless people transition to self-sufficiency. See how he’s also working to assist those at the shelter who are struggling with OPIOD addiction when you watch my story on @abc11 pic.twitter.com/qTflstjUMW— Anthony Wilson (@AnthonyABC11) January 29, 2018
Mills told reporters that on January 18, one of the coldest nights of the year so far, his staff hustled to provide spaces for more people than usual.
"We had 496, and 80 of them were on the floor. It was a foam mat so it wasn't the concrete floor, so we are thankful for that," Mills said.
Now he's working to expand the mission's campus in Durham. The additional room is needed - with opioid addiction causing many people to lose jobs and homes.
"And they wind up at the Rescue Mission," Mills said. "But I am so thankful, they are literally turning their lives around."
The help comes through prayer, counseling and some tough love for those who are willing to seek help. And while no one seeking shelter is ever turned away, those struggling with addiction have to consider the rules of the shelter.
If they can't commit to beginning a rehabilitation program, "They have to check out because we're drug free, or if they agree to stay in the program and not leave the campus, where we can keep an eye on them and get them off the drugs again, we'll work with them a second time," Mills said,
Those expansion plans for the mission's campus are contingent upon a fundraising effort. Mills is counting on donations from a community that always comes through when the Rescue Mission needs an assist.
"Yes, if you can write me a check for $60,000 we can start it tomorrow. But we feel like by April we'll have the $60,000 and be able to break ground," he said.