The city of Denver has not based on science its policy to open warming centers and shelters only when it dips to 20 degrees and below or at least two inches of snow are forecast, a doctor said Wednesday during the Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee of the City Council.
Dr. Josh Barocas of the School of Medicine at UC Anschutz told the council that frostbite and hypothermia can begin to occur in temperatures as low as 40 degrees. People experiencing homelessness lose digits and limbs to frostbite every winter. He said the council may want to consider changing its policy for cold weather activation, which went into effect Wednesday. “With the forecasted cold weather arriving this weekend, the City and County of Denver is activating the cold weather shelter plan,” according to the city website. “For this activation, the Department of Housing Stability (HOST) will open overnight shelter in the ballroom of New Directions (the former Best Western hotel), 4595 Quebec St., and the Denver Coliseum, 4600 Humboldt St., overnight from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, Saturday, Nov. 25 and Sunday, Nov. 26. Cold weather poses a serious danger to people who are unsheltered, and the city encourages people to come inside.”
Councilman moves to Denver from Virgin Islands
Recent talk in Denver surrounding homelessness and cold weather has focused on the migrants from Venezuela and other balmy climates. Council member Darrell Watson said he moved to Denver from the U.S. Virgin Islands when he was 10. He said it took at least two years before he acclimated to the change in climate. Barocas noted that people who arrive here from Venezuela don’t bring any cold weather gear with them.
Council member Sarah Parady indicated she may be bringing forth a proposed change to the temperature guidelines for activating cold weather shelters. Barocas said injuries sustained by people experiencing homelessness during the winter months cost taxpayers millions of dollars in hospital bills. He said it is cheaper to operate warming shelters and get people inside.
People experiencing homelessness already are at greater risk of health problems even without cold weather. Their life expectancies equate to those of people living in 1900, Barocas said, noting that warming centers provide only temporary relief. “These are not the end all be all.”
He said some people experiencing homelessness find congregate shelter sites to be so trauma-inducing they won’t come in even for cold weather.