It’s not new for Houstonians to be dreading the walk from the car to the house or to their workplace.
Except, usually it’s because it’s so hot outside. Right now, it’s freezing cold in the Bayou City and it’s hard to imagine not having a warm bed and a heater at night. But for many homeless people, that’s the reality.
The city’s Star of Hope shelters are at capacity, with many homeless men and women sleeping on the floor. Still, the mission’s outreach van is making the rounds to encourage people on the streets to spend the night at the shelter.
Star of Hope’s Scott Arthur says there are more than 1,000 homeless Houstonians who prefer to stay outside even now.
“They’re pretty hardcore. They don’t want to come in to a shelter. They don’t want to follow the rules, they don’t want to have the accountability, they don’t want to give up their drugs or their alcohol, even though the weather is extreme. They call themselves Vikings. They just are stubborn; they don’t want to come in. And there’s a lot of mental illness out there as well.”
To those who decide to weather the cold, the mission hands out blankets on a near daily basis. Lili Westfall and Charles Chambers sleep on concrete beside the road at Congress Street and Highway 59. They already have a pile of blankets.
“It’s nice to have some extra, though. I mean, it got to like 20-something degrees last night and we barely made it, we started to feel it, and so it’s getting colder tonight, so…”
The Salvation Army is offering what they call “warming stations” at several of their Houston area locations. During the cold spell, their community centers encourage anyone who wants to escape the cold to seek refuge there.
At night, the organization’s shelters will not turn anyone away. Leon Gaymon with the Salvation Army says usually, people can stay for seven nights within 60 days.
“Now, during the winter months, like when it’s extremely cold weather, we have what we call ‘grace night.’ Grace night it doesn’t matter how many nights you stay here, we’re not going to turn anyone away. We’ll find space and some warm place for them to sleep.”
Gaymon says Grace Night goes into effect when the temperature drops below 38 degrees or it rains for several days straight, but also when it gets really hot in the summer, which can be equally hard on people who sleep on the street.
In fact, for Charles Chambers the cold weather is preferable to the summer’s heat in Houston.
“Yeah, I’d rather have the cold because I can put on more clothes and put more layers in the cold. In the summer I can only take so much off.”
Tonight may be the last night below freezing this week. AccuWeather expects temperatures to rise to the 70s by Thursday.