City declares 'Code Blue' conditions

Additional shelter opened for homeless

December 14, 2010|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

With temperatures in the low 20s and wind gusts of 30 miles per hour, Baltimore officials declared the season's first "Code Blue" day Tuesday, extending hours at the city's shelter and opening an additional facility to offer the homeless a respite from the elements.

Forecasts called for the bitter conditions to continue Wednesday, with lows in the low 20s and gusts again of up to 30 miles per hour.

City officials announce a Code Blue day when temperatures are expected to be below 25 degrees with winds of 15 miles per hour or higher, when temperatures are less than 20 degrees, or during other periods of intense winter weather.

"Plummeting temperatures and wind chills present a serious danger," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who appeared at an afternoon news conference alongside health, homeless service and emergency management officials.

During Code Blue days, those who come to the city's homeless shelter in the 200 block of Guilford Avenue will not be turned away, even if they appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, officals said. That shelter has a capacity of about 350.

A second shelter, with room for about 100, will open on Code Blue days at an undisclosed location, officials said. Those seeking shelter at the Guilford Avenue center will be bused to the overflow center.

"No one will be turned away, regardless of their condition," said Thomasina "Tomi" Hiers, director of the Mayor's Office of Human Services.

City officials also urge private shelters to remain open for extended hours during Code Blue days.

A $9 million shelter in the 600 block of Fallsway is expected to open in February, said Hiers. The shelter, located in a renovated Department of Transportation garage, will have about 275 beds, a medical ward, computer labs, toilets, showers and a resource center, Hiers said.

Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot urged residents to be aware of the symptoms of hypothermia, which include lethargy, confusion and uncontrollable shaking. Those who are addicted to alchohol and drugs are particularly susceptible to hypothermia, she said, because they are less aware of the cold.

Last winter, the temperature was below freezing 75 days and eight people died of hypothermia, she said.

Robert Maloney, director of the Mayor's Office of Emergency Services, reminded residents to have food, bottled water and a battery-operated radio in case of an emergency situation.

Rawlings-Blake, who took office in February, just before an unprecedented pair of blizzards, urged residents to use safe heating methods, test smoke alarms and check on elderly and disabled neighbors and relatives.

"We did it during the snowstorm," Rawlings-Blake said. "We can do it during the winter."

Tips for the cold

•Wear a base layer to keep skin dry; an insulating layer such as a vest or shirt made of fleece or wool; and a windproof and water-resistant outer layer.

•Wear briefs made of synthetic fabric, preferably nylon or polyester; avoid cotton or cotton-blend fabrics.

•Wear tights, winter-weight hose or thermals; silk or polypropylene long thermal bottoms are best.

•Keep your hands warm: Mittens are warmer than gloves because fingers can warm one another.

•Layered socks, such as a wool hiking sock over a wicking polypropylene liner, will keep feet warm. Be careful that you don't wear a sock so padded and bulky that it crowds your toes in your shoes.

•Protect eyes, lips, neck and face; skin exposure should be minimized with a scarf, hat and other protection.

•Signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness. Babies with hypothermia have bright red, cold skin, and very low energy. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of these conditions.

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