- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

When winter temperatures drop below freezing in the District, city officials and community outreach workers will be prepared to remove some homeless people from the streets and force them into shelters.

“There is a law in the District that gives the city certain powers to make those kind of decisions for the benefit of the person,” said Terry B. Thomas, associate administrator of the D.C. Department of Human Services.

The agency, which oversees emergency services for the city’s homeless, issued 110 hypothermia alerts between Nov. 1, 2002, and March 31.

“We have crews on the street that will retrieve those people and take them to certain locations,” said Mr. Thomas.

For the third consecutive year, the city will run its hypothermia prevention effort under guidelines included in an executive order issued by Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

It provides Metropolitan Police, public health workers, and volunteers and employees with some nonprofit groups the authority to involuntarily commit those suspected of mental illness, public intoxication or impaired judgment “because they present a danger to themselves or others.”

The D.C. government provided about 1,600 shelter beds for the homeless last winter, and worked with churches and nonprofit groups to double that number to 3,250.

Private shelter operators also made an additional 518 beds available in emergency shelters that operated 12 to 24 hours a day.

This winter, the city’s hypothermia shelter budget is $1,449,100, to operate 14 facilities with 1,115 beds. Most of the facilities will be open only during periods when temperatures are below 32 degrees.

While there are fewer beds available this year, officials contend that they are adequately prepared to deal with the demand, even if this winter is as severe as — or worse than — last year.

Additional space can be made available quickly under agreements with local hotel operators, or by opening other city buildings as emergency shelters, Mr. Thomas said.

The hypothermia plan was among procedures practiced by officials from about 35 city agencies, utility companies and nonprofit groups during a five-hour snow emergency exercise yesterday.

“We’re preparing for people issues that could come up, such as mass care in the event of major power outages,” said Barbara Childs-Pair, acting director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency.


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