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Freezing Temperatures Prompt Local Homeless Shelters To Open Doors

Temperatures will drop in Louisville to below freezing Friday night, prompting three local homeless shelters to keep an open-door policy for anyone.

“We want our shelters to not have to turn anyway away when the weather is most severe,” Melissa Kratzer with the Coalition for the Homeless said. “Three of our local shelters will take in more people than they normally would on a normal night.”

The open-door policy, also known as “Operation White Flag,’ is available at St. Vincent de Paul, Wayside Christian Mission and the Salvation Army shelter. St. Vincent de Paul is for men only, while Wayside and Salvation Army take in families.

The reason shelters won’t turn anyone away is because of the concern over hypothermia, triggered by freezing temperatures that can lead to death. Between 1999 and 2011, almost 17,000 people died in part because of exposure to excessive natural cold. In 2015, Kenny Winfield was found on the steps of a local shelter. The preliminary cause of Winfield’s death was hypothermia, according to the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office.

Almost 6,300 people lived in shelters or on the streets in Louisville in 2016, according to the most recent homeless census. The most recent count of the homeless shows a five percent drop in the number of homeless residents from 2016. That drop was part of a trend — the number of homeless people in Louisville decreased between 2014 and 2015 by 13 percent.

Yet still, about 1,000 children remain without a home and more than 3,500 people with disabilities spend nights in shelters and on the street, according to the count. The data also showed shelters across the city are consistently at or near capacity, and more than 800 people occupy these shelters on any given night in Louisville.

On Operation White Flag nights, the doors at St. Vincent de Paul, Wayside and the Salvation Army shelter will be open, but bed space isn’t guaranteed.

“Even without a bed for each person, through Operation White Flag, all people can get a warm, safe place to stay indoors to avoid frostbite or hypothermia,” said Natalie Harris, executive director at the Coalition in a press release.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.

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