Missouri’s metro cities are working to make sure homeless populations are getting extra resources in the extreme cold. City staff is working with charity groups to see that homeless people in Kansas City and St. Louis are given the chance to sleep somewhere warm in the winter weather.
Kymal Dockett is with the New Life Evangelistic Center in St. Louis, where he goes out at night with the winter patrol. He says the center is the only walk-in shelter in the city, and though the emergency shelters are open during extremely cold nights, more needs to be done.
“Thirty-two degrees is freezing, so anything below 32 degrees, a person can literally die if they fall asleep outside … the city of St. Louis won’t open their emergency shelter unless its below 20, and we’re saying that’s too harsh, because you have hundreds of people in the St. Louis metropolitan area sleeping outside,” he said.
Dockett says some homeless people have mental illnesses, and the cold weather can further disorient them, leading to a bigger need to help them get fed or find a warm place to sleep.
“We even provide transportation if a person wants to go to a shelter,” Dockett said. “If a person doesn’t want to go to to a shelter, of course we respect that, and then we try to aid the person and get them through the night, whether it be extra blankets, socks … sometimes people in the abandoned house have candles, that’s how they stay warm.”
He says the New Life Evangelistic Center volunteers do whatever it takes to keep homeless people safe in the cold weather, even providing firewood. Dockett says this weather taxes an already overburdened system, and the center is always accepting donations of money, coats, blankets, or even lunch meat so volunteers can hand out sandwiches.
Kansas City also cares for its homeless with organized outreach teams.
Lisa Czubak with the City Manager’s Office says that includes staff with mental health credentials and referrals to medical and psychiatric services.
“Our three primary Outreach Teams are reStart, funded by two grants from the City, Swope Health Services, and Truman Medical Center’s Behavioral Health’s Assertive Community Outreach Team,” she says. “The teams are out in camps, on the streets, in parks and abandoned buildings … these teams know almost all the spots where homeless folks go. Between these three teams, there is homeless outreach every night. These workers have developed relationships with street homeless and runaways and know where people go.”
She says additionally, meals are served from mobile vans seven nights a week in camps, parks, and on the streets by Uplift and the Salvation Army. City Union Mission and reStart have overflow beds during extreme temperatures. Grand Avenue Temple United Methodist Church opens up its first floor for 20 women from November through March, and the Salvation Army also opens most of its sites as warming centers.
“In other words,” she says, “Kansas City, Missouri, has an extensive outreach operation in place 365 days a year; during extreme temperatures, we ramp up to ensure that all are provided for.”
AUDIO: Jessica Machetta reports (1:06)