2 homeless dead after overnight exposure

Third in critical condition after night in sub-freezing weather

December 04, 2005|By GREG GARLAND | GREG GARLAND,SUN REPORTER

Two homeless men died and a third was hospitalized in critical condition yesterday after spending a freezing night in a small brick plaza in downtown Baltimore, authorities said.

The three men were found huddled "under a couple of heavy coats and blankets" at Pratt and Eutaw streets after a dispatcher received a call about 8 a.m., said Chief Kevin Cartwright, a spokesman for the Fire Department.

He said medics arrived to discover that the men were not breathing and showed few vital signs. They administered life-saving procedures in an effort to revive them.

The men appeared to be between the ages of 40 and 55, Cartwright said. Two of the men, including the one in critical condition, were taken to the University of Maryland Medical Center and the other was taken to Maryland General Hospital.

Cartwright did not have information about their identities yesterday and said the cause of the deaths had not been established.

"Our concern is hypothermia but the actual cause of death will be established by the medical examiner," Cartwright said.

The men were found in a plaza bordered by the high walls of a hotel parking deck, where flowers and trees decorate a few grassy spots, and a row of benches faces nearby Camden Yards. Yesterday afternoon, a gray jacket lay under one of the trees.

Temperatures fell to a low of 27 degrees at the Inner Harbor shortly before dawn yesterday, according to the National Weather Service. That is slightly above the 25 degree temperature that can prompt city health officials to open a "Code Blue" winter weather shelter for the homeless.

Acting Baltimore Health Commissioner Francine Childs said the city opens its Code Blue shelter at 1400 E. Federal St. when certain conditions apply. The shelter is activated when temperatures are expected to fall below 25 degrees and sustained winds of 15 mph, heavy snow or other dangerous conditions are forecast, she said.

Although the city's 200-bed shelter was not open, Childs noted that other homeless shelters were operating.

Private organizations such as American Rescue Workers, the House of Ruth, The Salvation Army, and YWCA operate 18 homeless shelters with 1,020 beds in the city year-round, Childs said.

But Jeff Singer, president and chief executive of the nonprofit group Health Care for the Homeless, said those shelters are often filled to capacity, leaving some homeless people with few options other than to stay on the streets.

"There are about 3,000 people each night in Baltimore who are homeless, including people in emergency shelters and living on the streets, according to a census that the city did last January," Singer said.

He said that some of those who are homeless find a temporary place to stay sleeping on the couches of friends or relatives or in vacant buildings around the city.

Singer said a recent national study found death rates among the homeless to be four times that of the rest of the population per comparable age. He said in Baltimore alone, 80 homeless people died last year of a variety of causes.

"It's a problem that's been growing all over our country because of a lack of affordable housing, incomes being too low and a lack of access to health care and services," he said.

Childs said the city did not plan to open the Code Blue shelter last night because temperatures were expected to be in the low 30s.

City records show that 10 homeless people died from exposure to the weather in 2001. That number fell to four in 2003, when the Code Blue shelter opened. One person died in 2004 and three died at the beginning of this year.

greg.garland@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Sandy Alexander contributed to this article.

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