Sub-zero temperatures may tax homeless shelters
SPRINGFIELD - As the region is gripped by single-digit temperatures and sub-zero wind chills, homeless shelters already bursting at the seams are trying to find available space. At Friends of the Homeless, a shelter for men and women on Worthington Street, its nightly average has leapt to 157 adults - up almost 20 percent over the same time period last year. Executive Director William J. Miller said that over the last three months, the shelter has provided shelter for an average of 18 more people each night than last year. So, while the temperatures don't necessarily drive up numbers it ups the imperative. CBS3 meteorologist Nick Morganelli said residents should expect bitter cold air with wind chills through Thursday. High temperatures will struggle to the mid teens Wednesday and Thursday (along with morning lows near or below zero). Tuesday night is expected to be zero to 5 below with wind chills in the nights to come almost 15 below. "When it's zero out, it's life or death," Miller said, adding that economic factors appear to be bringing more people to shelter and that numbers have been trending up since he arrived at the shelter seven years ago. At that time, the average nightly count was 83 people per night. During the daytime hours, which can be as bone-chilling as the night, homeless are able to stay at the resource center which has a common area, televisions and a computer access. In another communities, however, homeless are required to leave shelter at 6 or 7 a.m. Danielle DeBerry, director of the Grove Street Inn and Interfaith Emergency Shelter in Northampton, said the agencies offer 47 beds in total and Grove Street has a waiting list of around 30 men and 12 women. On particularly cold nights they are able to accommodate about a half-dozen on couches. "Generally it fills the gap," DeBerry said, but echoed Miller's remarks about their shelters nearly always being full. In Westfield, Peter C. Gills, executive director of the Samaritan Inn, said their 37 open shelter beds and 10 transitional living beds also are full. While the frigid temperatures don't necessarily bring the homeless knocking at the door, he said there is a bottleneck created by those in certain residential substance abuse programs not anxious to leave in the cold - as a good number of people is shelters await those beds. "Every program sees this in the winter because no one wants to move," Gillis said. Springfield Police Sgt. John M. Delaney said so-called sector cars have been instructed to do foot patrols to keep an eye out for homeless in the coming nights and bring them to shelter. Workers with the City's Department of Health and Human Services are doing outreach, Miller said. The state's Emergency Shelter Commission also has urged shelters to activate "Extreme Cold Weather plans," which appears to consist of urging all unsheltered homeless to come inside.
After almost thirty years covering the news for television affiliates in Western Massachusetts, Kathy joined Friends of the Homeless in the fall of 2009 to help raise money and the profile of the organization to fulfill its mission. As Director of Development, Kathy is available to help you understand the work we are doing and how you might contribute to end homelessness in our community.