Cities open warming centers to protect the homeless from frigid temps

January 5, 2018, 2:22 p.m.
Homeless man named Gage, in Boston as snow falls from a massive winter storm
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Most cities have homeless shelters where people in need can go for a meal or an occasional night's sleep. But when temperatures dip to dangerous levels as they have across so much of the country, these shelters can't possibly house the overwhelming number of people seeking refuge from the frigid cold.

That's when communities often will open up "warming centers" in libraries, churches or other local buildings so homeless residents can find respite from the weather.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless (PDF), 700 people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness die from hypothermia each year in the U.S. Nearly half (44 percent) of the nation's homeless have no shelter.

Connecticut has about two dozen "extreme cold warming centers" throughout the state in places ranging from senior centers and libraries to YMCAs and city hall auditoriums. The city of Atlanta opened several warming shelters this week and partnered with other emergency shelters to help get homeless people to safety off the streets.

"I’m grabbing people off the street I know are homeless," George Chidi, the social impact director for Central Atlanta Progress, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution during a bout of particularly frigid weather. "You can’t sleep outside tonight, or you will die."

In Huntsville, Alabama, the city's warming center opens whenever the weather hits 32 degrees for 24 straight hours and is available to the homeless as long as temperatures stay below freezing.

"Whenever the temperatures drop, we have a higher demand on trying to find appropriate shelter for individuals that may be sleeping in their cars or tents," North Alabama Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Lineise Arnold told WHNT News.

Bruce Iverson is homeless in Cleveland, Ohio. He's staying at a recreation center that's being used as a warming center, and hopes to ride out the winter there as long as he can.

"No old person — nor young person — should be out there trying to challenge that weather," Iverson told WOIO-TV. "It's not good, not good."

Related on MNN: 9 ways you can help the homeless