- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 2, 2018

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The bitter cold settling over much of the nation is suspected in the death of a homeless man whose body was found in a trash bin in St. Louis, where homeless shelters are packed during a long stretch of unusually frigid weather.

Firefighters found the body of the 54-year-old man inside a bin near an apartment complex on Monday, when temperatures dipped to minus 6 degrees (-21 Celsius). The temperature - 30 degrees below normal - was part of a days-long cold snap that forecasters say could keep the mercury readings below freezing until Sunday.

Autopsy results were pending, the local medical examiner’s office said Tuesday.

The city operates just one homeless shelter, the Biddle Housing Opportunities Center, a 101-bed facility near downtown that expands to 185 beds during winter emergencies. But the city provides funding to more than a dozen other shelters run by churches, nonprofits and other organizations, according to Theresa Bordenave, a spokeswoman for St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson.

The city’s most recent count of homeless residents, in January 2017, showed 1,336 people.

Shelters in St. Louis are typically housing 150 to 200 people per night during the extreme cold, and no one is turned away, Bordenave said. She said volunteers with St. Louis Winter Outreach and first responders are out looking for homeless people and offering to take them to shelter.

Krewson and other city leaders are urging people to alert first-responders to homeless people who might need help amid the cold weather. Residents also are encouraged to check on their neighbors, particularly the sick, elderly and those who live alone.

“It is dangerously cold outside,” Krewson said in a statement Tuesday. “It’s important that people look out for anyone in need of shelter. The city and its private partners have enough beds to accommodate anyone.”

But the Rev. Larry Rice said the forced closure of his shelter earlier this year at the New Life Evangelistic Center pushed many people onto the streets, including 56-year-old Grover Perry, who was found dead inside a portable toilet near a construction site on Dec. 20. Temperatures dipped to 29 degrees (-2 Celsius) that day, though results of an autopsy to determine what caused his death are pending.

Rice said Perry was mentally handicapped and often stayed at the shelter. He said Perry had no place to go once the shelter closed, so he took to staying in the portable toilet to avoid the cold as best he could.

Rice’s shelter typically housed about 150 people a night. The city shut it down in April, citing chronic over-occupancy and building code violations. Neighbors also had complained about crime and rowdiness among shelter occupants.

“I’m surprised there haven’t been more people die,” Rice said. “There will definitely be more.”

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