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They wear battered winter clothing. Some are in torn jeans, old hooded sweatshirts. The more fortunate are bundled in grimy parkas. They walk through the door enveloped by the crisp scent of winter cold. It briefly masks the aroma of people who have lived in their clothes a long time. Almost everyone's face is lined from the cold and the rigors of a hard life. Everyone's eyes are tired.

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While the center causes some operational headaches when the cots have to be stacked to clear the gym floor to accommodate other programs, the warming center does not strain the Salvation Army's financial resources. Major Tom Riggs says "we work with the city. We contract with them for $25,000 to fund the program. It covers a large portion of it."

Vernon Lillegaard thumbs through a miniature New Testament. He got out of prison in North Dakota in November after a nine year sentence for selling Oxycontin he stole from a friend to an undercover law enforcement officer, he says.

theme. Deak recounts being arrested in August Converse Kids High Tops

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"You have so many great resources in this town," says Deak, and he describes a routine that involves meals at the Good Shepherd Center and The Banquet and eating dinner slowly enough there to be able to time the three quarters of a mile walk to the warming center to arrive as it is opening for the evening. "If I had to be stuck any place, this is a good town to be stuck in."

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There is an enormous contrast in the view of their circumstances between Deak and Youtis.

As philanthropy goes, this is about as close to the bone as it gets. "Our whole purpose for being here," she says, "is so people don't freeze to death."

On a night when the temperature is sinking toward zero, no one who has spent hours outdoors seems frisky enough to cause trouble. But Bender says she has had to break up fights before, and she regularly calls police to take rowdy drunks to jail or to the detoxification center. There have to be more pleasant ways to spend a night.

This is where they come to roost. Most are men. A few are women, and by the end of the night almost 70 people will find their way here.

It's no idle remark. James Herrick rises from the cot he's sitting on and stands next to Ken Campbell. "This guy saved my life," Herrick says. "I was sleeping on the streets." He'd found a boardwalk to crawl under at night and covered himself with cardboard, but as the temperature made its recent plunge to double digits below zero he knew this was woefully inadequate shelter. From Campbell, Herrick learned about the warming center around Christmas. "I Converse Beige Low had no idea," he says.

"Nothing against the people in Sioux Falls," he says, "but it's too big."

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least stay warm, everybody here seems to have a goal.

after picking up a doll stuffed with crack cocaine in a Sioux Falls motel. He was running an errand for a friend, he says, and didn't know what was in the doll. He remains in Sioux Falls waiting for resolution in the case.

For a sixth year, the Salvation Army is operating its warming center for homeless people who have desperately few options. It opened Dec. 15. Since then, it has averaged 66 people a night, Bender says. While many are repeat visitors, this season 240 individuals have made use of the center. It will remain open every day until March or April, when a consistent run of warmer days convinces Salvation Army officials winter has ended.

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Vernon Lillegaard makes his cot Thursday night at the Salvation Army warming center. It opened for the winter season Dec. 15 and has provided shelter against the cold to 240 people since then.(Photo: Emily Spartz / Argus Leader)Perhaps you've seen them around town, tough as winter sparrows, shuffling along the frigid sidewalks from the library to the Good Shepherd Center to The Banquet.

During a brief break from checking in the nightly guests, Bender turns on a TV and checks to see that a pot of coffee is full. About a half dozen people gather at a couple of tables in front of the TV to watch football. Mostly, though, people grab soap and a towel from Bender and take showers or they begin nesting in their cots, arranging blankets, emptying pockets, reading.

As they check in, Maj. Betty Bender writes names on a roster and notes who occupies what cot in the lines of them covering the gymnasium floor at the Salvation Army headquarters at 800 N. Cliff Ave.

Deak plans to go to Oregon when his legal problems are behind him, then to Oklahoma to see his daughters, ages 6, 5 and 3. After that, he wants to visit a sister in Texas and brother in Georgia. He's among quite a few of the warming center's regular guests who work but don't earn enough to live independently, according to Bender. Campbell says he's waiting for spring, when he hopes to get on with a construction crew.

Louis Deak says he's been banned from the Union Gospel Mission, so his choices for surviving winter nights were the warming center or jail. If not for the center, "I would probably go out to act the fool to get locked up. It's a warm place. That's sad to say, but . "

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Kevin Youtis wants to return to the Black Hills.

"Nobody else really wants to do it," she says of operating the warming center. But the Salvation Army won't shrink from fulfilling a need. "As long as its needed, we'll do it."

Despite spending nights at the warming center and days waiting out empty hours in places such as the downtown library where an unobtrusive homeless person can at Converse Boots Indonesia

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Lillegaard seeks disability payments for a bipolar condition. He's making slow progress, he acknowledges, but if he is granted a disability retirement he can get an apartment, get established in Sioux Falls.

However, the warming center always could use donations of soap and shampoo, socks, underwear, gloves and hats, Bender says.

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Haven in the cold during time of need

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