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More shelter beds to open as storms bring dangerously cold conditions to St. Louis

People living in tent encampments face dangerous conditions as colder weather sets in.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
People living in tent encampments face dangerous conditions in winter. This weekend's blast of Arctic air could bring windchill values of 10 to 15 degrees below zero, which has prompted the opening of 65 emergency shelter beds.

The Arctic air mass moving into the St. Louis area on Friday is expected to blanket the region with dangerously frigid temperatures and windchills that could extend into next week.

St. Louis is not in for much snow or freezing rain, unlike other parts of the Midwest this storm system is hitting, said Jon Carney, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis. The region will see some rain on Friday, he added.

“As far as snow goes, the cold front is going to come through and not only bring colder air, it’s going to bring drier air with it,” Carney said. “And it looks like it’s going to shut down the precipitation very quickly.”

The larger danger locally will be from back-to-back days of temperatures dropping into the low single digits and windchill values that could hit 10 to 15 degrees below zero on Sunday and Monday, he said. Carney described the storm as a “shock to the system” after the mild winter St. Louis has had thus far.

“Truly dangerous windchill values for people who aren’t prepared for it,” Carney said, people who “are not properly dressed or people who don’t have adequate shelter.”

Windchill values this low can cause frostbite in 30 minutes, Carey said, adding that hypothermia can set in quickly too. City officials are also warning of these risks.

“It’s important to monitor your friends, family and loved ones for signs of hypothermia, including shivering, confusion, drowsiness or bright red and cold skin,” said Justen Hauser, Environmental Health Services bureau chief for the Department of Health. “If you witness any of this, contact a medical provider quickly.”

St. Louis officials and other local organizations that provide care for those without housing are also working to ensure there is warm shelter space available.

City-funded shelters will be open 24/7 along with some daytime warming centers. AmeriCorps St. Louis, at 1315 Ann Ave., has shelter beds Thursday to Sunday during sub-20 degree weather.

A combined effort of Lifeline Aid Group, Valor Villages and Peter and Paul Community Services will make an additional 65 “zero barrier” beds available this weekend. St. Louis Department of Human Services Director Adam Pearson said he and staff had to scramble to locate enough cots and supplies.

Bethel Church at 5401 S. Kingshighway will have 25 beds from 3 p.m. Sunday through 7 a.m. Jan. 20.

Forty beds will be available at 2612 Wyoming St. through Peter and Paul Community Services.

Sydwell Hajicek, an outreach and housing coordinator with Lifeline Aid Group, said his organization will be overseeing the shelter at Bethel Church and will help transport people to the other location. He said he expects all beds will be filled.

“It’s not a question of if the new beds will fill up, it’s a question of how fast,” said Hajicek. “And it’ll be too fast.”

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.