Having an Arctic blast

Shelter loosens rules to get homeless indoors
Jan. 07, 2014 @ 05:48 PM

Jack Froshas been nipping at a lot of noses in the Southeast lately, with the biting cold coming south from Canada, creating a “polar vortex.” 

Early this week, the temperatures dropped into the single digits, something it has not done in this region since January 1997, according to AccuWeather. 

Regional schools, including Union County Public Schools, had a two-hour delay Tuesday to prevent students from being exposed to the cold in the early hours of the day. 

For the most vulnerable in our society, temperatures this low can be dangerous or even deadly. 

Union County Community Shelter decided about a year ago to keep its emergency winter shelter open year-round. 

“We expect we’ll probably have a higher instance of folks coming in (Monday night),” Executive Director Kathy Bragg said. 

She said they removed tables and chairs in the dining room in order to make room for additional cots. They will also make sure that everyone receives a hot meal. 

“Additionally, during the daytime hours when it’s extremely cold like this, we’ll allow (clients) to stay inside,” Bragg said. 

Normally, clients are not allowed to stay in the shelter during the day without special permission. 

The shelter is also issuing, for people who may need them, additional winter clothing and sometimes sleeping bags for people who do not wish to stay at the shelter, Bragg said. 


Bragg said she did not think many people would be sleeping outside and that some may find shelter at a friend or family member’s house and the people who tend to stay in the woods know the shelter is open. 

“We’re hoping there won’t be anyone on the streets,” Bragg said. 

She encouraged people if they do see someone on the streets to either call the shelter or tell the person where the shelter is. 

For low-income families, the increased heating bill is causing problems. Union County Crisis Assistance Ministries has seen an increase in calls over the past week for help with heating bills. 

“This is the busiest time of the year for Union County Crisis Assistance Ministry,” Executive Director Gloria Barrino said. “We’re one of the few resources for utility assistance” other than the Department of Social Services. 

The agency received a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and additional help from Duke Energy’s Share the Warmth program. 

“We certainly are preparing for an increase in requests,” Barrino said. 

The agency is also seeing an increased need for food assistance. Barrino said they are seeing an increase in people who have to choose between paying a slightly higher power bill and paying for groceries. 

Barrino said they are grateful for donors and churches that have partnered with them to keep families warm and they need that continued partnership in order to take care of local citizens, especially the elderly at times like this. 

Animals are also in danger in cold temperatures and are at risk of developing frostbite or hypothermia. 

The Humane Society of the United States advises that pets be brought indoors during cold spells and only be taken out for walks or exercise. They also advise that short-haired animals may be more comfortable with a sweater or some form of warmth on longer walks. 

“If for some reason your dog is outdoors much of the day, he or she must be protected by a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in his/her body heat,” a tip sheet from the Humane Society reads. “The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The house should be turned to face away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.”

Outdoor pets also need more water because so much of their energy is devoted to staying warm. 

The Humane Society also suggests people report animals they see being left in the cold without food or shelter. Animal neglect is a misdemeanor in every state, and though North Carolina is not one of the 41 states that specify animals must have adequate shelter, some local ordinances are stricter. The organization recommends that people who see an animal being left in the cold should contact animal control enforcement.

People should also take steps to avoid freezing or possibly bursting pipes by letting a tap drip to relieve built-up pressure and by insulating exposed pipes. 

AAA, formerly the American Automobile Association, is experiencing delays in some parts of the country due to an increase in calls due to cars not starting. 

AAA of Western and Central New York is advising drivers to keep the gas tank half full, check antifreeze levels, warm your key or use a key lock deicer if your locks are frozen, warm up your car before driving and if possible, do not use your parking brake as it may freeze. They also advise keeping your car in a garage if possible. 

Charlotte’s benchmark low temperature record is seven degrees, from February of 1996, according to Accuweather. Most weather forecasts show the temperatures rising again by the end of the week.