Temperatures plummeted into the teens early today in Baltimore and at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, while forecasters were keeping a nervous eye on a weather system that could bring light snow tomorrow.
Ken Shaver of the National Weather Service said the mercury dropped to 18 degrees in the city and 12 degrees at BWI early today. As cold as they were, the lows hardly approached the record for this date in the city -- zero in 1936.
A front moving into the area from the west will bring cloudy skies and a slight chance of snow tomorrow, mostly on the lower Eastern Shore. Tonight's temperatures should be in the low to mid-20s, Shaver said.
All this means the metropolitan area's homeless are moving from the streets into shelters.
"We average 170 men, now we're about 40 men above normal," the Rev. Ken Matthews, chaplain of the Baltimore Rescue Mission on Central Avenue, said last night.
"Most of them are commenting on the cold and saying they don't want to stay outside," he said.
"We're trying to squeeze in as many as we can," Matthews said, adding that people are sleeping on mattresses on floors. They also were served bean stew.
Things weren't so different at St. Mark's Lutheran Church on St. Paul Street.
"We'll probably have a full house tonight [last night]," said Gloria Snowden, assistant manager for St. Mark's Shelters. "If we're full to capacity, we usually refer them to another shelter."
The cold temperatures prompted the city to activate its "no-turn-away" policy for Baltimore's estimated 2,400 homeless.
Johanne White, administrative assistant to the director of the Mayor's Office on Homeless Services, said 315 beds were added to the roughly 1,250 beds at more than 40 city shelters, and a specially marked Mass Transit Administration bus transported the homeless to area shelters.
City buildings are opened to augment shelters when the temperature falls below 32 degrees or there are forecasts of snow, sleet or freezing rain.
This policy has been used a number of times already this winter season, White said.
Norma Pinette, executive director of Action for the Homeless, a homeless advocacy group, said that, unlike people who have a place to live, homeless people have to remain on the streets when they have colds. That means they fail to take appropriate medication or get proper rest, which often can turn their colds into something more severe.
"Can you imagine staying on the streets with a cold?" she asked.
Hypothermia, for example, becomes a concern, she said.