- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

Efforts by the D.C. government, churches and charitable organizations to get the homeless off the freezing streets and into warm shelters are succeeding in at least one important statistic no one has died of hypothermia.
Yesterday, the National Weather Service said temperatures dropped to 14 degrees which prompted a warning from public health officials for people to limit their outdoor exposure. The temperature was expected to dip to 12 degrees early this morning with a wind chill between 5 degrees and 10 degrees below zero.
Wednesday night, with temperatures at 14 degrees, some 2,500 homeless men, women and children were in shelters throughout the District, officials said.
"There have been no deaths to date from hypothermia," said Jean Barton of the United Planning Organization, a nonprofit service organization.
Since November, UPO vans have been patrolling the city's streets 24 hours a day in search of the homeless to offer blankets, hot drinks and free rides to the city's 20 emergency and hypothermia shelters. As the need becomes greater, "the District will open more shelters," Mrs. Barton said. The UPO dispatches six of the white vans every day, she said.
"We check folks to see if they need coats, shoes or long johns," Mrs. Barton said. "We give them hot drinks, soup, and we hand out plenty of blankets and sleeping bags. But, we'll only give out the sleeping bags to the people who will not come in off the street."
Donald Whitehead, 40, a formerly homeless man who now heads the National Coalition for the Homeless, said large numbers of people are not using the emergency shelters for different reasons.
"Even as cold as it is now, there are people living on the streets," Mr. Whitehead said. "There are efforts by the District to provide outreach services to pick people up in bitter conditions, but there are many who don't access the services for some reasons."
Some, he said, stay out on the streets because they don't like the conditions in the shelters. Others, he said, "may have mental health issues; still others, health issues." Finally, "there are those who just don't know about the resources. They're the ones who fall through the cracks. That's a situation we may face more often as more of the working poor are facing the homeless situation," he said.
The numbers increasing most rapidly in the homeless population, he said, are women and children.
Lynn French, a senior policy adviser in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Children, Youth, Families and Elders, said: "We have not had a winter like this for a long time. Normally, we have 50 hypothermic nights for the whole winter."
So far, two-thirds of the nights have fallen in the hypothermic range, she said, which means either the temperature or the wind chill is below 32 degrees.
Ms. French said the city has received a lot of support from churches and nonprofit organizations.
In the Northwest neighborhood of Columbia Heights, Sacred Heart Church and Meridian Hill Baptist Church allowed the city to expand their operation to get the homeless of the streets and out of the cold. St. Aloysius in Northwest also volunteered space for the city to house the homeless, Ms. French said. The United Way volunteered space in its boardroom as lodging for those who have nowhere else to go.
"We have a lot of partners," Ms. French said. "People are doing God's work. They work very hard, both volunteers and employees, because they believe in what they are doing and they're committed to keeping people alive."
To ensure that no homeless person is turned away and that space is available, the District opened the Franklin School in Northwest earlier this week and the United Way opened its building on M Street in Southwest yesterday. Ms. French said space was tripled for families at D.C. Village and additional space was made available at the D.C. General campus in Southeast.
She said she was thankful that no one has died of hypothermia this year. One person died last year, and one person dying on the streets because of the cold is one too many, she said.
"It's very painful to everyone," Ms. French said.
The Hypothermia Shelter asked that anyone wishing to report a homeless person in need of shelter call its hot line: 800/535-7252.


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