Colder months create obstacles for Rochester’s Homeless 

Ollie is one of the at-risk city resident who uses St. Joseph's Soup Kitchen. Part of Michele's ongoing photo essay following homeless and at-risk residents this cold Rochester winter. Credit: Michele Ashlee

Ollie is one of the at-risk city resident who uses St. Joseph’s Soup Kitchen. Part of Michele’s ongoing photo essay following homeless and at-risk residents this cold Rochester winter. Credit: Michele Ashlee

Rochester is finally enjoying unseasonably warm weather after two snow storms and brutally low temperatures. While many of us are welcoming the warmer weather, drastic changes in the weather can create obstacles for Rochesters homeless and at-risk residents.

High temperatures of 49 degrees with increased humidity levels mean a higher chance of rainfall during the day. We are expecting rainy days this week and flood warnings have been issued by the National Weather Service for Monroe and surrounding counties from January 22 to January 23 with additional showers anticipated for the following weekend.

Parks and low ground areas could be overrun by rain as well as melting snow. This leaves those looking for shelter or living outdoors with limited options, says local experts. And it will make staying warm and dry more difficult.

And warmer winter days don’t always translate into warm nights; the precipitation from the day often freezes during the night. In addition to preparing for increased rainfall and flooding, homeless residents also have to find ways to stay ahead of falling temperatures.

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“They find a way. Either in a shelter or an indoor public place such as the library, bus terminal, etc,” said Christopher Scribani, Assistant Development Director of the Open Door Mission. The 70 person-capacity shelter operates in downtown Rochester as a safe haven for homeless men. They also provide a daily meal program for men, women and children.

The Open Door Mission, along with donations and other organizations in Rochester is one way that the homeless and at-risj residents in challenged communities survive the winter.

“In weather situations like this, people are very generous [and] make a contribution knowing that we’re a real solution to combatting the probability of a homeless person losing their life in extreme cold weather,” said Scribani. Frostbite and freezing to death are real issues for the homeless who often are without adequate warm clothing or shelter.

Frostbite is a real danger for homeless residents who often struggle with inadequate clothing and shelter. With nowhere to go, exposed skin can get frostbitten quickly. Credit: Michele Ashlee.

Frostbite is a real danger for homeless residents who often struggle with inadequate clothing and shelter. With nowhere to go, exposed skin can get frostbitten quickly. Credit: Michele Ashlee. Part of Michele’s ongoing photo essay following homeless and at-risk residents this cold Rochester winter

Over the holidays, food and clothing drives were an important source for families to prepare for the approaching colder months. The City of Rochester’s annual Bring Christmas Downtown coat drive saw a high turnout. The event included information on health insurance, school Financial Aid processes and distributed winter coats, free of charge to people who needed them.

Local organizations have also worked to fill this gap including IBERO American Action League. Even the Central Library opens its heated front entrance earlier than business hours to offer warmth to those out in the cold. For many who battle these cold temperatures alone, the community help can make all the difference.

House of Mercy has an entire page dedicated to frostbite. They say that over the years, these cases have decreased but are still a real issue: 

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“People left out in the cold can now find shelter and medical care. But homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse and extreme poverty still put thousands of people at risk every winter. Without the right clothing, ice and snow and brutal temperatures do lasting damage to tissues, bones, joints and nerves. That’s why there is an endless need for coats, hats, gloves, scarves, and boots to keep people warm and protect them from the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia.”

And those brutally low temperatures we just escaped from probably aren’t over. In fact they’re not uncommon this late in the winter. Local meteorologist Scott Hetsko believes that drops in the temperature like we have recently experienced could be seen again before the season is out:

“This isn’t terribly unusual cold meaning we tend to get one or two spells like this in a typical Winter. That does not mean this isn’t very dangerous cold especially for those forced to deal with it in a tent.”

Fluctuating temperatures and increased rainfall are continuing to make an already hard situation more difficult for our residents in need. While the season of giving has officially ended, it is important to keep in mind that the winter season is still in full swing putting those at risk in real danger.

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4 comments

  1. Erin

    This is such an essential issue, and I’m grateful Open Mic Rochester is focusing on it and bringing it to our community’s attention.

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