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How to help get people off the freezing cold streets

Sections of the tidal Potomac River begin to freeze from shore to shore in this photo taken late on December 31, 2017 as bitterly cold air settles over the Washington region. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

WASHINGTON — Getting someone off the streets and into a warm, safe space on frigid days starts with something as simple as a phone call.

Local governments have hotlines or have police departments funnel calls to the appropriate agencies to get people into shelter.

Human services workers say when you call, you need to be able to tell them when and where you spotted the person in need and give them a description. They can take it from there.

In Montgomery County, residents are advised to call the county police department’s nonemergency number to report someone in need.

In Prince George’s County a homeless hotline has been set up.

And in D.C., Carter Hewgley, senior adviser with the Department of Human Services, said that a call to their shelter number activates teams who go out in vans and work to get people off the streets.

“It’s an all-hands effort, and we’ve got plenty of capacity,” Hewgley said. “There’s no reason anybody should be sleeping outside or even being outside for too long right now.”

Hewgley said some people who live on the street long-term and, even in frigid weather, refuse to go to shelters — women in particular worry about their personal safety. For that reason, the District has worked to find smaller shelters, and some are women-only.

Hewgley said the teams who go out on the street are trained professionals and work hard to engage people who stay outside. “What we’ll do is check on them, and if they’re resistant, we’ll come back later and check on them again.” Sometimes, that persistence will help someone decide that getting to a shelter is the best thing they can do.

In D.C. and in Montgomery County, officials said they’re aware of where homeless populations cluster, and send teams out to check on their welfare regularly. During this deep freeze, those teams are working even harder.

“They’re working nonstop right now,” Hewgley said. “These temperatures are dangerous.”

DC HOTLINE: 202-399-7093

MONTGOMERY COUNTY: 301-279-8000

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY: 888-731-0999


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