For thousands of people living on the streets, being outside could easily turn deadly as frigid temperatures sweep across the East Coast this week.
Homeless shelters from Florida to Massachusetts are scrambling to provide adequate housing for those in need. Here’s how some of them are handling the winter storm, and where you can go for help.
Florida typically sees above-average levels of unsheltered homelessness due to its warm climate. But this week, temperatures in Tallahassee dipped below those in Anchorage, Alaska, and below-freezing temperatures also brought snow to the region for the first time in 28 years.
Although the wintry accumulation may look beautiful, it’s bad news for those without a roof over their heads.
Tallahassee’s Kearney Center ― a 242-bed facility that serves more than 900 meals a day ― has been inundated by people seeking refuge, the center’s director, Jacob Reiter, told HuffPost on Wednesday.
During cold weather, the center typically receives about 50 additional people ― but two nights ago, 419 people checked in, Reiter said by phone. That’s nearly double the number of beds available.
“We’ve got to kind of find areas that are safe inside the building to put additional people inside,” Reiter said. That means setting up spare cots and turning dorms into “gathering rooms,” he explained.
“Every day is emergency operations for us,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can.”
Making matters worse, the shelter is the only one of its kind in the area.
“There’s no other emergency shelter for adults in the entire region, so you have to go all the way to Jacksonville or Gainesville until you find another shelter,” Reiter said.
But the solution is not adding more shelters, he added.
“We need to address some of the systemic problems. We need more affordable housing we need a higher living wage,” he said. “I think the best way to address it is affordable housing and jobs.”
In Savannah, Georgia, where below-freezing temperatures shut down roads and an airport on Wednesday, the Salvation Army’s local shelter was among the area’s facilities bracing for an influx of people.
Shane Pritchard, speaking to HuffPost by phone while operating the shelter’s front desk on Wednesday afternoon, said normally the shelter doesn’t open its doors before 5 p.m., but the dangerous weather has created an exception.
“I had a guy come in earlier today, and he had ice on his jacket,” Pritchard said.
Pritchard said the shelter, which has 130 beds as well as spare cots, had filled up on Tuesday night.
“When we run out of cots, we have air mattresses that we’ll put up in our TV rooms,” he explained. “I’m just doing it until I run out of space.”
Like Reiter, he admitted the work isn’t easy, but added that “if I was out there, I’d want someone to help me.”
“It does get hectic, especially because I’m the only one here,” Pritchard said, after noting that the closed roads had prevented other staff members from driving in to help.
As far as neighboring shelters go, there are others available, including the Inner City Night Shelter, the Old Savannah City Mission, and Union Mission. The Salvation Army’s shelter is the only one that accepts guests 24 hours, Pritchard said.
“The building shuts down, but if people are still looking for a place to stay, we’re still available,” he said.
Anyone arriving after 10 p.m. will require an escort by a police officer, he added.
Greenville, South Carolina
Temperatures in parts of South Carolina are forecast to fall into the single digits and teens at times from Wednesday night to Saturday, meaning extremely dangerous conditions for those left out in the cold.
David Hanna, director of the Greenville Rescue Mission, which offers housing for men, said Wednesday that the shelter has nearly hit capacity, with 130 guests in the main shelter and 90 people in a cold weather shelter that can house 100.
“I’m really surprised, to be honest,” Hanna said of the fact that the shelter has not yet gone over capacity. “We’re hoping that we don’t go over that number, but we’ll find a way to accommodate everyone.”
He urged anyone needing shelter ― men, women or children ― to seek help.
“Anybody who is still out there, they are very welcome here. We’d love to have them join us and we’d be a lot happier to know they’re safe,” he said.
In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh urged members of the public to call 911 if they see someone in the cold who may need help. He also asked people to check on elderly neighbors in case they need assistance.
Walsh had announced earlier that a snow emergency would go into effect at 7 a.m. local time on Thursday. Such emergencies open Boston Center-Youth & Families Community Centers as warming centers. The number of centers that will open up depends on the need, according to the city’s website. The full list of centers can be found here.
“We’re going to continue to be out there, but we’re asking people that if you see someone who might seem disoriented or who shouldn’t be out in the cold, if you call 911, we will get emergency personnel there to try to encourage them to come on in to a shelter,” Walsh said.
There are 1,481 year-round emergency shelter beds available throughout Boston for those in need, in addition to 242 overflow beds ― 172 for men and 70 for women ― which can be accessed through a number of shelters that the city collaborates with, according to the city’s website.
Those shelters include:
- Pine Street Inn ― has three separate locations for men, women and families in need
- Boston Rescue Mission ― open to men and women
- The Boston Night Center ― open to men and women
- Bridge Over Troubled Waters ― open to youth, ages 14 to 24
- Rosie’s Place ― women’s shelter
New York City
New York City officials have triggered “Code Blue” safety protocols after 12 straight days of temperatures dipping to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
The “Code Blue” alert means that anyone seeking shelter at one of the city’s facilities will not be turned away. Outreach teams will also contact individuals who have been deemed vulnerable several times a day, and will bring them to a shelter if needed.
Since the Code Blue protocols were initiated late last month, there have been 106 placements in shelters, safe havens and other warm locations, the city said.
“No one who is homeless and seeking shelter in New York City during a Code Blue will be denied,” the city said in a press release. “Should you see an individual who appears to be homeless and in need out in the cold, please call 311 and an outreach team will be dispatched to offer assistance.”
On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to add 250 more “Safe Haven” beds over the next two years to the more than 700 beds already available.
In the nation’s capital, a cold emergency plan remained in effect on Wednesday, amid several days of freezing temperatures across the region and wind chills forecast to dip into the teens on Thursday.
That emergency plan requires shelters to remain open 24 hours a day for those in need. Public facilities, such as recreation centers, may also open during the day or night to serve as warming shelters. The city will also provide those in need with transportation to warm locations, according to the DC Department of Human Services.
Those who need shelter or who would like to report someone in need of shelter can call 311 or (202) 399-7093 for help. A full list of shelters in the area can be found here.
Anyone who sees a pet in need of help can contact the Washington Humane Society at (202) 723-5730 to report cruelty, neglect and animal emergencies.
If you need help and your city is not listed above, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website has a list of resources by location, which can be found here.
You can also dial 311 or 911 if you or someone else needs assistance.