- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The recent cold weather has prompted D.C. officials and charity organizations to open shelters for homeless persons.

“The homeless are human beings in a very vulnerable position when they are sleeping outdoors or have nowhere else to go,” said Deborah Daniels of the D.C. Department of Human Services. “It’s a matter of having a humanitarian system to help them.”

The temperatures in the region yesterday dropped to 20 degrees Fahrenheit with north winds making it feel more like 5 degrees.

The National Weather Service predicts a cold air mass from the Ohio Valley will bring an inch of snow to the region today, leaving homeless men and women looking for a warm place to spend another night.

The Central Union Mission in Northwest has 82 beds at its homeless shelter.

“It’s a blessing to me,” said Levi Wallace, who stayed at the shelter last night. “I would rather be here in the warmth and comfort of this place then out there risking hypothermia.”

The city has issued a hypothermia alert, which means vans are dispatched to take homeless residents to shelters when the temperature is below 32 degrees. The alert is in effect from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Earl Cottom, who regularly stays at the mission and at Gospel Rescue Ministries in Northwest, said he and his brother once slept underneath wooden stairs in the snow when a shelter had no room.

“I was shocked that we woke up,” said Mr. Cottom, 47. “For a long time, I took places like this for granted, but not anymore.”

Last year, one homeless man in the District died from hypothermia, Miss Daniels said. The city funds several hypothermia shelters through Catholic Charities, and has a partnership with United Planning Organization to have on-call drivers pick up people on the streets and take them to shelters.

D.C. residents can call 800/535-7252 to report someone at risk from hypothermia who needs transportation to a shelter. Miss Daniels said emergency shelters around the District have 1,703 beds.

Fewer than 100 of the 360 beds at the New York Avenue shelter run by Catholic Charities in Northeast were occupied Monday night, said family support specialist Willie Mobley.

“A lot of them come here for different reasons,” he said. “We don’t turn away anybody.”

Darryl White, 33, has been staying at the shelter since last week and says it provides a safe alternative to the cold outside.

“It’s just being in a warm environment,” he said. “The heat doesn’t work all night, but I still have a bed to lay in and a place to take a shower.”

The Salvation Army is among the organizations working to protect the homeless.

Bernie Dake, director of development for the Salvation Army in the metro area, said the organization works with volunteers all year to provide the homeless with blankets, clothing and food.

The Salvation Army facilities do not have beds, but workers will transport people to a facility with beds, Mr. Dake said.

“When the cold weather sets in, this becomes much more of a necessity,” he said. “People in the area notice [the homeless] much more now than when it’s nice and warm out and we’re all headed to the beach.”

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