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NIAGARA FALLS – The city’s downtown homeless shelter is seeing more and more children come through its doors.

Community Missions of the Niagara Frontier saw the number of nights of shelter provided to children under 12 go up at an “alarming” rate, more than doubling in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2013.

With the harsh winter, overall demand for emergency shelter service increased by 25 percent over the same period.

But for children there’s been a noted increase over the past year. Over that time, there’s been a 56 percent jump in nights of shelter for those under 12, shelter officials said.

“The increase in nights provided to children is really the combination of a number of factors,” Grant Babcock, crisis services director, said in a written statement. “The length of stay is probably the largest factor. It used to be that we never had families stay for longer than a month. Now, though, it can take three or four months for families to get re-established.”

In the first three months of last year, 164 nights of shelter were provided to children under 12. In the first quarter of this year, 420 nights of shelter were provided through Community Missions’ crisis housing programs.

In 10 of the last 12 months, the shelter provided more than 100 nights of shelter to children. In the previous 12 months, that happened in only four months.

The mission also saw a 9 percent increase in the number of meals it served in the first three months of this year, with a total of 17,308 meals served.

The mission’s food pantry saw an increase of 14 percent, while the soup kitchen served 7 percent fewer meals.

“The relationship between the soup kitchen and food pantry totals is what we like to see,” Babcock said. “We want to provide the resources for people to cook and eat at home, and these numbers show that is happening.”

For more information about its services or to donate, visit www.communitymissions.org or call 285-3403.

email: niagaranews@buffnews.com