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Homeless shelters near capacity as cold weather continues

Homeless shelters near capacity as cold weather continues
NWS windchill chart
Homeless shelters near capacity as cold weather continues
Posted at 9:14 PM, Jan 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-03 22:21:54-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - Local homeless shelters are filling up as overnight temperatures drop below zero.

Wednesday night, WTXL Chief Meteorologist Casanova Nurse says the expected low is only 24 degrees. The chill in the air cuts right through your clothes and almost burns the skin; a sure sign that staying outside could be deadly.

"I knew because we had a hard summer, it was going to be crucial this year," said Anicia 'Mama Bear' Zaporta.

Zaporta says she's been homeless for 14 years. Normally, she camps out in wooded areas in Tallahassee. However, as the cold weather moved in this week, she knew staying outside was a bad idea. That's why she called the Kearney Center.

"One of the case managers came and picked me up when it started to snow because I was actually freezing, my hands were in so much pain," said Zaporta.

In freezing conditions, it takes less than 30 minutes to get frostbite, according to data from the National Weather Service.

"I've known people that have passed away in the cold weather," said Jacob Reiter, Director of the Kearney Center.

Reiter says, on an average, they see 375 people a night seeking emergency shelter. Lately, that's risen to 420 people a night, and that's just not more beds filled.

"It's more meals that we're providing. We need more hygiene products, things so people can take showers," said Reiter. "There are parts of the year that I think maybe people don't really think about folks experiencing homelessness, so having this cold weather reminds folks that this is something that happens every day."

Thanks for the Kearney Center, Zaporta is off the streets Wednesday night. Instead, she's volunteering in the shelter kitchen. She's proud of the food she makes, and she has a message for others with no place to go: "Please come in. We've got nurses here, we've got blankets and we've got three meals."

"Please get off the streets, I beg you and I love all of you."

Reiter tells WTXL that the community has been generous; the shelter has gotten almost 10 times more donations than usual lately. However, he says more than 50% of the Kearney Center's budget comes purely from donations, not grants or government funds. Reiter says the center wouldn't be able to stay open without grassroots fundraising and local support.

To find out how you can donate to or volunteer at the Kearney Center, click here.

For other shelter options, contact the Big Bend Homeless Coalition here.

Reiter also says, if you're worried about a homeless person in your area, encourage them to go to the nearest shelter or call local law enforcement. Many shelters work with area police to keep folks safe and off the streets, especially when it's dangerous to be out overnight.