"It's been cold for the whole week before this," Protip Biswas, executive director of the United Way of Greater Atlanta's Regional Commission on Homelessness, told CL today. For the homeless, the temperature, not the snow, is the real issue.
The snow and ice are preventing further outreach to the homeless population. "Last night,[with] our team, I was more concerned about them getting home than doing outreach," said Biswas, who spent four-and-a-half hours on a bus getting to his North Fulton home.
But, he added, the United Way and its partners already did extensive outreach and many shelters are filling up.
So far, there are no reports of cold-related casualties among homeless people.
"Let's keep our fingers crossed," Biswas said.
All area shelters are operating on a policy of not turning anyone away during the cold weather, which is expected to continue through tomorrow. Complete stats aren't available, but the Gateway Center shelter in Downtown had 50 extra residents on overflow, sleeping on mats and chairs, Biswas said.
"We are packed," says Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless Executive Director Anita Beaty of the nonprofit's shelter located at Peachtree and Pine streets. "We're receiving anyone who needs us and have gotten calls from all kinds of folks. Now we need food and we're getting it. Faith groups are getting prepared food. We're getting that message out there so people understand and [have] responded beautifully. It's all looking so much better compared to 24 hours ago."
Anyone in need of shelter can call the United Way's advice hotline at 211. Biswas also advises people to watch TV for any tips on local schools and community centers that are currently open to anyone stranded by the storm.
"Warmth is the critical factor" and any kind of shelter is crucial, he said.
In this time of crisis, many big-hearted volunteers are likely to have the desire to help homeless people. But Biswas cautioned that people should avoid epic journeys on terrible roads and to think of their neighbors first. If you live near a shelter and can help, that would be welcome, he said, as are United Way donations. But a local school or church might have people in need, and the people next door might need a hand.
"Start at your neighborhood," Biswas said. "It's not just the homeless. Today is a day we need to care for the whole community."
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