Cold-weather shelter is ready for the homeless

December 01, 2004|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN STAFF

With winter approaching and temperatures falling, the city announced yesterday that its cold-weather shelter is ready for business should weather conditions turn severe.

The "code blue" shelter will open for its third year to take in the homeless should the temperature fall below 25 degrees with sustained winds of 15 mph. This will be the shelter's second year in the Oliver neighborhood, on the second floor of the Oliver Recreation Center at 1400 E. Federal St.

Last winter the shelter opened on 22 nights, shielding 3,780 people from the elements. Thanks in part to the shelter, only one person in Baltimore died last year of cold-related injuries -- the fewest such deaths in any winter on record, said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner.

"This year, we'd like to not have any at all," said the Rev. Robert C. Burley, president of the Oliver Community Association and pastor of New Life Baptist Church. Burley's church is one of eight area houses of worship that support the code blue shelter's clientele with offerings of food, clothing and permanent places to live.

Unlike other shelters, the code blue facility has nurses on site to treat cold-related injuries such as steam-grate burns and frostbite. Counselors offer shelter recipients assistance with job skills and with mental illness and substance abuse issues.

Last year, 90 percent of shelter users who were offered drug treatment referrals followed through on those appointments, Beilenson said.

Once a code blue is declared, people can take a free bus in the evening to the shelter from stops throughout the city. In addition to offering the homeless a cot, a blanket and a warm place to spend the night, the shelter also provides hot meals.

The city estimates that there are between 3,000 and 5,000 homeless people living on Baltimore's streets. Most of those, Beilenson said, suffer from mental illness or drug addictions.

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