WASHINGTON – Frigid cold temperatures drove people into emergency shelters across the state this week, with a Baltimore emergency shelter setting a record for the number of people served in one night.
Health and welfare officials said they expect more of the same this weekend, with temperatures expected to remain below freezing.
“No one should be dying because they don’t have a regular place to stay,” said Melisa Lindamood, legislative director for the Baltimore City Health Department.
The city had 198 people in its Code Blue shelter Sunday — 15 more than the record of 183 people that used the facility in a single night last year, the first year of the homeless assistance program. City officials said 174 people used the shelter Thursday night.
Shelters in Frederick and Hagerstown have also reported a steady increase of people seeking refuge at the shelters this year — even before the latest cold snap.
“Our census is 10 to 15 percent higher than last year. We have seen a tripling in the number of women (using the shelter),” said Brian Scott, executive director of the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs. It oversees the Allen P. Linton Jr. Emergency Center in Frederick, which opens on winter nights.
“We have had to put people on mattresses on the floor,” Scott said.
The Frederick shelter, going on its 14th season, served a total of 270 people last year. This winter, shelter officials said they expect to serve around 300 people.
In Hagerstown, it is the same story at the Reach Caregivers Cold Weather Shelter, where last season 376 people used the shelter.
“We have seen the highest numbers in eight years. Right now, we’re almost to capacity every night,” said Terri Baker, the executive director for Reach.
Baker said capacity for her organization is about 52 people a night, “High numbers for Washington County.”
The Code Blue program in Baltimore is doing heavy business even though it has been open for just eight days this season. The two-year-old program provides emergency health services, food and shelter for the homeless when temperatures dip below 25 degrees with sustained winds of 15 mph or higher.
The city buses people in from different neighborhoods for Code Blue, which are offers a warm meal, a personal cot and blanket for the night. Even though the facility has 230 cots, city officials said they will accommodate whoever shows up.
“We wouldn’t turn people away, the point is keeping people away from the cold,” Lindamood said.
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