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Advocates For The Homeless 'Scared To Death' About Upcoming Cold Snap

OliBac | Flickr

For the 26th time this winter, emergency shelters operated by Winter Outreach will open in the city of St. Louis.

At least two of the organization's eight shelters, which are housed mostly in churches, open every night the temperature is scheduled to drop below 20 degrees. Volunteers operate the shelters, as well as provide transportation and seek out homeless people and encourage them to come inside. The shelters opened just 31 times last year, and the bitterly cold weather and snow forecast over the next several days means that number will be much higher this winter.

"It's exhausting for everybody, the homeless primarily," said Teka Childress, who helps coordinate Winter Outreach services. "It's very tiring for us to go out all winter and have to be going out so many nights and always worrying about people being safe and always trying to figure out do we have enough people, do we have enough places for the night?"

Childress says everyone who has needed a warm place to stay the night has found somewhere to go, though some were sleeping on the floor rather than cots. But she says that only happened because the organization's partners expanded the number of people they took in a night - which is not an ideal situation.

"Our dream is to not only provide safety for people and have places for people to go out of the cold, but have places where they can have basic human dignity and their needs met, and the smaller our shelters are, the better shelter we provide," she said.

Childress is still "scared to death" that someone will die in the upcoming cold snap.

"There are a couple of people who are really at risk due to mental illness who are very fearful of going in [to shelters],” she said.

The city also operates an emergency overflow shelter, which will be open every night through next Tuesday. As of Dec. 30, it had served 868 people, with the Salvation Army providing the evening meals. Kimberly Beck, Salvation Army social services director for the St. Louis region, says the agency has enough food to continue providing the meals for several more nights.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.