Extremely cold weather in Denver area will endanger the homeless this weekend.

As dangerously cold weather closes in on the Front Range, concerns rise about the safety and health of people experiencing homelessness.

Temperatures will be in the single digits and below zero overnight in the metro area through Tuesday, according to weather forecasters. Daytime high temperatures will stay below the freezing mark through the period. Extremely cold weather kills people who are living on the streets, taking shelter under bridges, in abandoned buildings with no heat, and in tents in homeless encampments.

Just under 500 men, close to capacity, spent the night Wednesday at the two locations of the Denver Rescue Mission, said Nicole Tschetter, a DRM spokeswoman.

Mission officials expect area shelters to fill to capacity as the weather progressively gets colder and the mission’s Lawrence Street shelter will remain open during the day so people can shelter from the freeze.

“Our main goal, working with the city of Denver and other shelter providers, is to make sure that everyone has a hot meal and a warm place to stay overnight,” Tschetter said.

Last year, more than 31,000 people experienced homelessness in the metro area, according to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. Some people don’t want to shelter overnight in housed or organized settings for a variety of reasons. But deciding to ride out the storm outdoors could be dangerous, even deadly.

In Denver, “Early Intervention Teams” contact people on the streets when the weather gets wintry, urging them to go to shelters for safety and warmth. Some of those team members include Denver firefighters.

“Denver fire is approaching this weekend as we would any weekend,” said Capt. Greg Pixley, a department spokesman. “We’ll try to recognize those who need help and try to provide them with information so they can get to a warm location.”

This week, Denver fire responded to multiple fires at homeless encampments, fires caused by propone heaters, Pixley said.

One fire was sparked at about 9:50 p.m. Tuesday in the Platt Park neighborhood, near West Mexico Avenue and South Acoma Street, Pixley said. A second fire was put out at about 7:40 a.m.  Wednesday near 22nd and Stout streets, northeast of downtown Denver.

People living on the street use propane for cooking and for warmth, Pixley said.

“We’ve had fires in encampments, and it is extremely dangerous,” he said, noting that tents often house 20- and 40-gallon propane tanks, along with flammable liquids, including gasoline and diesel gasoline, used to run generators.

“We were lucky, those fires were quickly extinguished,” Pixley said.

Whenever the temperature drops below 40 degrees, Denver police dispatchers air a radio announcement hourly, reminding patrol officers to be aware of the cold and on the lookout for people who may need help, said Christine Downs, a police spokeswoman.

“All officers on duty, we ask them to make contact and help to get them out of the elements,” Downs said.

Should Denver shelters fill to capacity, and capacities have been reduced by COVID-19 protocols, the city has options that will include sheltering anyone with a need, said Britta Fisher, executive director of the Denver Department of Housing Stability.

The Lawrence Street Community Center, 2222 Lawrence St., will be used as an emergency center for men. An emergency shelter for women is at 1370 Elati St., near downtown Denver. The Denver Coliseum will be used as an emergency shelter.

“We have capacity across the spectrum, we hope everyone will work to get inside,” Fisher said. “It’s going to be a cold one.”

 

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