Stepping up Help for the Homeless as Temperatures Plummet

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As temperatures were expected to dip into the single digits overnight, the Department of Homeless Services and advocates increased outreach to the homeless.

DHS instituted what it calls a "Code Blue" for people in need of shelter. The agency doubled the amount of outreach vans which responded to 3-1-1 calls about folks sleeping outside. The agency usually has about five vans in operation--on Monday night there were twelve with extra staff.

Assistant Commissioner Lisa Black said last week they responded to a higher volume of calls about people outside in the elements. DHS sees a moderate increase of single adults seeking shelter beds on the coldest nights. Workers were advised to bypass standard intake application procedures and not turn anyone away. But even on freezing nights, not everyone will find shelter.

Juan De La Cruz with the Coalition for the Homeless said shelter means different things to different clients. “[We're] trying to convince them to get inside if not to a shelter, then maybe to an alternative…into a train station for the evening,” he said.

Coalition for the Homeless workers distributing jackets and blankets in midtown./Kathleen Horan

De La Cruz said since they deliver meals every night to clients on the street, the reminders they give to take shelter are sometimes heeded by clients who would normally avoid such places. "Its just having somebody they trust telling them… this may be a better option for you just for tonight."