Cold forcing more into homeless shelters

Wheeler Mission Monday night (courtesy Wheeler Mission)
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These freezing temperatures are not just uncomfortable. They can be dangerous. Anyone exposed to the cold for too long is at risk.

Those at the highest risk of hypothermia include the elderly, babies, especially if they're sleeping in a cold room, and anyone outside for an extended period of time.

How long is too long?  These are common warning signs: Shivering and exhaustion, confusion and fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.

Keep in mind that sweat increases heat loss, so it's important to wear breathable materials. Avoid gasoline and alcohol on skin and don't ignore shivering.

Because of the frigid temperatures, Wheeler Mission opened up to an additional 150 men, women and children who were allowed to sleep on the floor, increasing their normal overnight population by about 40 percent.

If you do encounter the homeless downtown, be very careful about giving money. Steve Kerr of Wheeler Mission advises not to give money to folks on the street, "Because often, especially in this kind of weather, if they're buying alcohol or drugs and fall asleep, then that's a deadly combination. So buy 'em a meal. Refer them to one of the shelters in town."

Kerr said Wheeler is very crowded now, "Especially out shelter for men. It's wall-to-wall guys. But at least they're indoors and it's safe.  We're probably serving 1,100 meals a day now."

The city's Winter Weather Contingency plan ensures that anyone who needs shelter will get it.  Nobody who needs shelter will be turned away.