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Area shelters, homeless people, brace for danger of arctic blast

  • Christine Weibel of Southampton, on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon.

    Christine Weibel of Southampton, on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Warm hats and gloves that Christine Weibel of Southampton,asks for donations for as a way to help make ends met,  on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon.

    Warm hats and gloves that Christine Weibel of Southampton,asks for donations for as a way to help make ends met, on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sean Miner stayed warm at the Grove Street Inn where they kept their doors open during the day because of the cold weather Wednesday afternoon.

    Sean Miner stayed warm at the Grove Street Inn where they kept their doors open during the day because of the cold weather Wednesday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Christine Weibel of Southampton, on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon.

    Christine Weibel of Southampton, on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Christine Weibel of Southampton, on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon.

    Christine Weibel of Southampton, on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Christine Weibel of Southampton, on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon.

    Christine Weibel of Southampton, on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ezekiel Kirwa, in the United States for the last 6 years  from Kenya and homeless for the first time, avoids the cold weather by staying in the Resource Center and Interfaith cot shelter  on Center street in Northampton Wednesday afternoon.

    Ezekiel Kirwa, in the United States for the last 6 years from Kenya and homeless for the first time, avoids the cold weather by staying in the Resource Center and Interfaith cot shelter on Center street in Northampton Wednesday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ezekiel Kirwa, in the United States for the last 6 years  from Kenya and homeless for the first time, avoids the cold weather by staying in the Resource Center and Interfaith cot shelter  on Center street in Northampton Wednesday afternoon.<br/>

    Ezekiel Kirwa, in the United States for the last 6 years from Kenya and homeless for the first time, avoids the cold weather by staying in the Resource Center and Interfaith cot shelter on Center street in Northampton Wednesday afternoon.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ezkiel Kirwa, in the United States for the last 6 years  from Kenya and homeless for the first time, avoids the cold weather by staying in the Resource Center and Interfaith cot shelter  on Center street in Northampton Wednesday afternoon.<br/><br/>

    Ezkiel Kirwa, in the United States for the last 6 years from Kenya and homeless for the first time, avoids the cold weather by staying in the Resource Center and Interfaith cot shelter on Center street in Northampton Wednesday afternoon.

    Purchase photo reprints »

  • A sign on the door at the Grove Street Inn.

    A sign on the door at the Grove Street Inn. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Christine Weibel of Southampton, on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon.
  • Warm hats and gloves that Christine Weibel of Southampton,asks for donations for as a way to help make ends met,  on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon.
  • Sean Miner stayed warm at the Grove Street Inn where they kept their doors open during the day because of the cold weather Wednesday afternoon.
  • Christine Weibel of Southampton, on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon.
  • Christine Weibel of Southampton, on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon.
  • Christine Weibel of Southampton, on Main street Northampton during the cold weather on Wednesday afternoon.
  • Ezekiel Kirwa, in the United States for the last 6 years  from Kenya and homeless for the first time, avoids the cold weather by staying in the Resource Center and Interfaith cot shelter  on Center street in Northampton Wednesday afternoon.
  • Ezekiel Kirwa, in the United States for the last 6 years  from Kenya and homeless for the first time, avoids the cold weather by staying in the Resource Center and Interfaith cot shelter  on Center street in Northampton Wednesday afternoon.<br/>
  • Ezkiel Kirwa, in the United States for the last 6 years  from Kenya and homeless for the first time, avoids the cold weather by staying in the Resource Center and Interfaith cot shelter  on Center street in Northampton Wednesday afternoon.<br/><br/>
  • A sign on the door at the Grove Street Inn.

“Today has been the coldest so far,” Schnopps said of Wednesday’s weather, which drove him back to the Hampshire County Interfaith Shelter on Center Street two hours earlier than its usual 6 p.m. opening. The shelter space is usually closed from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., but stayed open all day Wednesday to give those with no homes a place to get out of the dangerously cold weather.

“If you’ve got the right clothes for it, it’s a walk in the park,” Schnopps said of getting through cold days. Wearing a canvas winter jacket, a thermal shirt and long underwear under his jeans, he waited in the living room of the crowded shelter for dinner to be served.

Outside on the sidewalk, men bundled up in hats and jackets and carrying backpacks waited for vans to shuttle them to a six-bed overflow shelter in the Our Lady of the Valley Church annex in Easthampton.

Like many area shelters, the Interfaith Shelter was already over its 20-person capacity Wednesday at 6 p.m. “We’re really not turning anyone away in these temperatures,” said Danielle DeBerry, director of Hampshire County Emergency Shelters for ServiceNet Inc.

Temperatures got up to 15 degrees Wednesday, but according to the National Weather Service, taking the wind chill into account, it has not been over zero degrees since Tuesday at 8 p.m. Tuesday night’s low was 5 degrees, while Wednesday and Thursday were both predicted to bring subzero overnight lows.

Forecasts for today and Friday predicted the wind chill would stay below minus-8 with winds gusting up to 30 mph. The weekend will see temperatures climbing back into the 20s, the National Weather Service forecasted, with a return to more seasonable temperatures on Monday.

All around the Pioneer Valley, while most people were at home putting on slippers and cranking up their thermostats, homeless people spent their nights in crowded shelters and their days on the run from the cold.

The frigid temperatures Tuesday night prompted 184 men and women to stay at the shelter on Worthington Street in Springfield, setting a record for the most people the largest regional facility for the homeless has hosted at one time.

Amherst’s Craig’s Place shelter has an additional 22 beds for homeless people and it, too, was trying Wednesday to make arrangements to make sure everyone who needed to stay warm for the night could do so.

In Northampton, the Interfaith Shelter and the Grove Street Inn, which normally hold a total of 41 people, were seven over capacity during what is considered life-threatening cold Tuesday night. DeBerry said Wednesday night that she expected to be “pretty much maxing out at both shelters” that night, too, although she said she did not know the exact numbers.

She said she has not seen any residents with frostbite or other health issues due to the cold, but others were not so lucky. Monday, a guest at Amherst’s First Baptist Church shelter became hypothermic prior to getting inside for the night and needed to be taken by ambulance to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, said Kevin Noonan, executive director of Craig’s Doors, the agency that oversees the shelter.

Keeping the cold at bay

Like many homeless people who stay at area shelters, Schnopps has a daily routine after the shelters close in the morning.

“I get up and leave by 7 a.m., dress in layers, and go to the library and stay awhile there,” Schnopps said of his daily trips to Northampton’s Forbes Library. “As long as you’re OK and not loud, you can stay there pretty much all day.”

He said he usually takes the bus to Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke, which offers substance abuse and mental health programs, and then heads back to Northampton to find lunch at one of the churches that offers free meals. After that, it’s back to the library until the shelter reopens.

Ezekiel Kirwa, 28, said he recently found himself homeless after his job as a home care provider ended abruptly last week. Since that was where he lived, he said, he lost his home when he lost his job.

Originally from Kenya and in the area for six years now, he said this is the first time he has ever been homeless. He’s learned to cope in the cold quickly.

“It’s been crazy, I’ve just had to bundle up,” he said. “There’s a couple of places you can go.”

Like Schnopps, he named Forbes Library as a place where he and many other homeless people sought refuge Tuesday and Wednesday to keep out of the bitterest cold.

He also spent time at the ServiceNet resource center, part of the Interfaith Shelter on Center Street, but is actively trying to find other places to stay.

“You can’t stay here forever, it’s just for emergencies,” Kirwa said.

Other people on the streets, he said, reach out to others for help. “If you have friends, relatives, or family members, just call them up and say ‘it’s cold,’” he said.

Christine Weibel, 51, of Southampton, has been staying on a friend’s couch at night, but she still has to brave the cold. Wrapped in numerous layers of clothing, she spends many of her daytime hours on downtown Northampton sidewalks trading scarves, headbands and other items she crochets for donations of $5 to $20.

Weibel has lived in the Northampton area since she was 12, and over the years, was homeless on at least four separate occasions, so she’s familiar with finding her way on the streets.

“I have to be out here to make ends meet,” she said from her spot on Main Street midday Wednesday. “It really helps me with my bills and it’s a positive way to make people happy.”

Balancing need, safety

Cold weather motivated about 20 more people than the previous night to come for services Tuesday night at the Springfield shelter run by the Friends of the Homeless, according to its executive director, Bill Miller.

Miller, of Northampton, said staff began setting up extra beds in December, a task that took on more urgency this week.

“The legal occupancy has to be taken into consideration, but in this weather so does the life of the individual seeking shelter,” he said.

Over the last five years, Friends of the Homeless has developed a facility that provides numerous services and includes a daytime shelter, so it can remain open 24 hours a day year-round. It is the second largest shelter in state next to the one in Boston.

Kathy Tobin, development director, described the Worthington Street campus as “pretty packed,” with meal numbers remaining high and the resource center full of people. But no one was being asked to leave.

“We encourage them to stay, on a night like last night,” she said. That means doing “outreach in the city and encouraging people to come,” she added.

Shelter staff also used the opportunity to hand out extra hats and scarves to guests, Tobin said.

In Northampton, DeBerry said she expected to continue keeping the Grove Street Inn, which normally closes at 8 a.m., open throughout the day today. At the 43 Center St. shelter, the ServiceNet resource center, which usually closes at 3 p.m., will stay open until 5 p.m., when the doors for the Interfaith Shelter open for the evening an hour earlier than usual.

At the Grove Street Inn, Sean Miner, 26, was among the guests keeping warm in the living room during the day Wednesday. He said he’s been homeless since November, and has been having trouble finding work or anyone willing to help people in his situation.

“They look at you like you’re a disease when we’re just looking for a helping hand. It’s hard times, it could happen to anyone,” he said. “It’s just something you work with.”

Amherst numbers swell

Amherst is also expected to adapt and try to do more, said Noonan, of Craig’s Doors.

“We are very concerned over the life-threatening conditions we are experiencing,” he said.

He has requested that the shelter be allowed to go over capacity until the weather warms a bit.

“This is killer cold. We don’t want that to happen to anyone,” Noonan said.

Because the shelter at the First Baptist Church can’t open much before 9:30 p.m., Noonan said his advice for people is to stay inside as long as possible.

“Get inside, whether you go to the mall or wherever, then come to us. We’ll make sure you stay warm,” Noonan said.

Noonan is also looking for hats, coats, mittens, scarves, boots and blankets that can be given to guests and hopes additional volunteers will step up.

Even before the cold snap, shelters have been dealing with rising numbers of people seeking assistance even during less severe weather.

Miller said the Springfield shelter served 1,191 people last year with an average stay of 46 days. Since October, though, the average has gone up to 157 per night, 18 more than a year ago.

“Overall, our nightly numbers continue to increase despite the hard work and housing focus on our campus,” Miller said.

The success was finding 237 men and women permanent housing and 50 others enrollment in long-term rehabilitation programs, job corps or military service.

“Our main goal is to move people into housing,” Miller said.

Others at risk

Besides those without housing, senior citizens are one of the groups most likely to be affected by the cold.

Bangs Community Center in Amherst acts as a warming shelter, with hot drinks available, said director Nancy Pagano.

For those senior citizens who come and need warm supplies, some blankets and coats are periodically available.

But Pagano said that during very cold stretches, attendance plummets as people stay at home, something already happening with the difficult cold, flu and bronchitis season.

Pagano said the people she worries about most during the bitterly cold days and nights are those suffering from dementia who may not be aware of the need to dress for the weather.

She suggests family members contact the police department about enrolling in the lost elder program, which can put out an immediate alert.

Amherst Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said his department doesn’t usually see a spike in medical calls when temperatures drop below freezing for extended periods.

“A lot of people take heed of warnings and are taking care,” Nelson said. “They’re bundling up and not spending a lot of time in the cold.”

Related

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Monday, March 4, 2013

PORTLAND, Maine — A teeth-chattering cold wave with subzero temperatures is expected to keep its icy grip on much of the eastern U.S. into the weekend before seasonable temperatures bring relief. A polar air mass blamed for multiple deaths in the Midwest moved into the Northeast on Wednesday, prompting the National Weather Service to issue wind chill warnings across upstate …

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