The nights are gradually becoming colder and for those who don’t have immediate access to a warm shelter or hats, gloves and blankets, the falling temperatures pose extra health risks.
On Monday, individuals in Southern Oklahoma got their first taste of nearly freezing temperatures, with the high for the day at around 36 degrees in the Ardmore area. Subsequently, homeless shelters and day centers are seeing a large uptick in the number of individuals taking shelter from the cold.
“Yesterday I had 47 and so far today, 44,” said Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma Day Center Director Karlie Harper. Typically Harper said she sees about 25 individuals that come in for services such as doing a load of laundry or getting ready for work.
“But when it’s cold like this, people are here all day long, from the moment I open to when I close,” Harper said. “When I got here this morning for work there were people lined up here waiting on me because they slept outside or they slept in their car and they were freezing, ready to get in and take a hot shower to try to warm up.”
Without warm shelter or clothing, homeless individuals face complications such as dehydration, hypothermia and frostbite.
Law enforcement officers often observe individuals experiencing homelessness and try to help out in any way they can, said Ardmore Police Department Community Service Officer Mike Castanos.
“The colder it gets, the more the risk rises,” Castanos said. “Generally a person in that condition doesn’t have that ability— they might not know where to get warm clothing or a blanket or whatever else, so it’s definitely going to be a risk.”
Homeless individuals typically seem to disappear over the night, Castanos said, suggesting that they might find shelter with a friend or elsewhere. However, Castanos said he was called to Mercy Hospital in Ardmore on Monday in reference to a homeless individual that needed a place to stay.
The man had checked himself into the emergency room and told medical personnel that he was having some “medical issues,” Castanos said. However, when physicians examined him, they found that there were no actual medical concerns.
“So security there called me and they said, ‘Hey, we’re wanting to know what we can do for this fellow because we don’t feel like turning him out in the cold. He’s an elderly man, he’s supposedly blind and he doesn’t have any place to go’,” Castanos said.
With the local Salvation Army homeless shelter packed and another overnight shelter currently under construction, Castanos said he decided to put the individual up at a hotel for the night with money out of his own pocket.
“I felt really bad and I thought ’This can’t be something that I can allow’,” Castanos said. “So we took him out there and got him a room.”
Castanos said the man’s reaction was hard to gauge due to his long hair, thick beard and hoodie mostly covering his face, but “he was obviously grateful. He told us ‘Thank you’ and that he appreciated it and so forth.”
Harper said the Salvation Army will raise up a flag on what they refer to as ‘freeze nights’ to let individuals experiencing homelessness know that they are taking in more people than normal.
However, not everyone qualifies to come in and once they get to capacity, there’s nothing else that they can do, she said.
“We’re just trying to help whoever we’re trying to help,” Castanos said, regarding involvement on behalf of law enforcement like himself.
The general public can also help out by donating hats, gloves, scarves, hand warmers, and even things like water bottles, Harper said.
“There’s things that we don’t think about like dehydration because they’ve put so many layers on and even though they feel cold, they don’t realize they’re sweating,” Harper said. “Just a bottle of water is a helpful thing.”
Donations can be dropped off at the Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma, located at 11 A St. NW in Ardmore.