Friday, January 28, 2022

Seattle’s wettest fall on record has already hit vulnerable people hard and could get worse

One cold and rainy November day, Christopher Hammack sat outside the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank in Georgetown with everything he had – a box of ready-made food, a backpack, bags and a bicycle.

Hammak has nowhere to live. And he doesn’t have a car, a tent, or even a tarp to keep his belongings dry, fewer than many of the nearly 5,000 people who live on the street or in vehicles in Seattle. any night.

The best he can do when the rainy season hits Seattle is to find a canopy to sleep under, or ask a friend who has a hideout if he could crash there, but that’s not always reliable. He himself devised sometimes dangerous ways to stay warm, by rolling out a layer of carpet before he lay down, or lighting hand sanitizer in a warm jar.

“This seems to be the coldest time when it rains,” Hammak said.

When the weather hits, the city has plans to open weather shelters, but that usually requires over an inch of snow and temperatures below 25 degrees, said Kevin Mundt, a spokesman for the city’s department of social services.

The Seattle Times Homeless Project is funded by BECU, Bernier McCaw Foundation, Campion Foundation, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Rikes Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Starbucks and the University of Washington. The Seattle Times retains editorial control over Project Homeless content.

Most of the rainy and cold weather in Seattle does not trigger emergency shelter, leaving thousands of people forced to fight the disaster. In a year where the number of homeless deaths is above average – at least 159 homeless people died this year – the question arises how deadly a long, exceptionally cold and wet winter is, even if it is not. will reach the status of “emergency care” for the homeless, faced with hypothermia, hypothermia, etc.

This year is an unusually dry summer with record high temperatures have created a number of problems for the homeless, and now fall is the rainiest on record. Seattle received over 19 inches of rain between September 1 and November 30, making it one of the wettest in the fall, according to the National Weather Service.

This wet season has created additional challenges for people trying to stay warm and dry outside, and this is a concern for some homeless people as Seattle approaches a winter that is expected to be colder and wetter than average as La Ninya is gaining strength.

According to the King County Forensic Service, at least five people have died from hypothermia this year and two from hyperthermia and overheating.

“When it’s 35 or 38 degrees outside, it’s awful,” said Rick Reynolds, chief executive of Operation Nightwatch, which provides shelter, shelter and street support in Seattle.

Reynolds said that when the weather isn’t very good but not bad enough to cover the news, his biggest concern is about people trying to survive on the street.

In February, Seattle and King County launched homeless shelter options during a winter storm that caused the region to experience freezing temperatures and several inches of snow. The city opened four severe weather shelters over five days and reported that 216 people were using the sites at their peak.

But even these services, some homeless service providers say, are difficult to get people to use.

Often, emergency shelters are activated a few days, and sometimes 24 or 36 hours before severe weather, leaving little time for outreach workers to inform people living on the street.

“People don’t see themselves as vulnerable to some of the harsh weather conditions we can foresee,” said Chloe Gale, co-director of the REACH communications program.It takes time and effort to help them understand what they really want. ”

Forging those relationships and communication options to help people make a plan takes time, Gale said.

Several people believed to be homeless have been confirmed to have died or are believed to have died due to the June heat wave in Washington state. One was minutes from the Woodinville Cooling Center it closed early because nobody came.

In June, the City of Seattle opened a temporary shelter at the Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center when temperatures remained at 90s levels and reached 108 degrees. The first two days, the cooling shelter was opened and the city officials said it was less than half the capacity, 40 people or less.

Gail fears that even with preliminary planning, these efforts will not be enough to withstand the changing climate.

“My biggest fear,” Gale said, “is that we are living in an escalating climate catastrophe that gives us much more severe weather events that we have not experienced before, and that it is much more difficult to predict what will happen and have the ability to build in the necessary prevention. ”

“People resist going inside, even in bad weather, because they don’t want to leave their belongings,” said Don Shepard, REACH Information System Coordinator in Southend.

“So just expecting people to go on a trip and leave their belongings is unrealistic,” Shepard said.

One of Shepard’s clients lives in a car that doesn’t drive. “The machine is not warm,” Shepard said, “if it can’t work.”

The client has already lost two toes due to frostbite. And after a recent visit to him, Shepard is worried that he could lose more if he can’t come this winter.

In addition to the risk of hypothermia and hypothermia, people living on the street also face the effects of mold when their hiding places become damp and repeated rains prevent the premises from drying out.

The city is in the process of transferring its emergency response to winter weather to the newly formed King County Homeless Office, which will take over the housing and community outreach contracts. in the new year.

Forward movement, The Homeless Office will work with the city’s Emergency Management Office to determine when to activate extreme weather resources. “But this work will be very similar to previous years,” said Ann Martens, a spokeswoman for the department.

The government will inherit 15 days and 100 beds in shelters and, if necessary, can agree with the city on additional ones.

In addition to temporary housing resources, Seattle will add 380 new permanent beds by the end of 2021.

Increasing permanent housing resources – from hotel rooms and new tiny houses to 24-hour luxury shelters and more – will allow more people to get in forever this winter, said Kevin Mundt, a spokesman for the city.

Often, a long-term shelter can have more rules, requirements and time-consuming paperwork than a temporary shelter, which has fewer requirements. During the pandemic, many people stayed in shelters longer, creating fewer places for new people to enter.

Shelters for harsh weather, similar to more permanent ones., must be staffed around the clock and ready to support anyone who enters.

“The biggest challenge now, as in any other nursing profession, is staffing,” Martens said in an email. “Service providers are understaffed (and underpaid) to begin with, and using a shelter in harsh weather conditions further diminishes their ability.”

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