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  • Writer's pictureJim Strawn

Living in the cold: What it feels like to be homeless in freezing weather

Have you ever spent a cold night without shelter?

From: Montgomery Advertiser

By: Kym Klass

This article by Kym Klass discuss what it is like to be without a home during cold weather.

The feet take the longest to thaw.

Michael Parker remembers that as an 18-year-old sleeping in a car after he moved out of his mother's house. The feet, he said, take the longest to warm up.

But put on enough layers, and he said he survives the cold — 20 degrees is the coldest he has weathered overnight outside.

As overnight temperatures locally fall into the low 20s and teens this week, Parker, now 30, has spent his fourth consecutive night at the Salvation Army, where he also knows he will survive.

The warmth, he said, provides opportunity for a good night’s sleep.

"To this day, I don't know if I could really do that again," he said. "I wouldn't want to. Your feet are going to get cold in the car, to the point they are numb and it takes about 30 minutes to an hour to warm them up once the temperatures start coming up in the morning.

"At the shelter, I feel good waking up. I don't like it, but I'm cool."

Cold weather poses a threat to those experiencing homelessness even when temperatures seem mild. Hypothermia can set in when temperatures drop below 50 degrees, but many shelters don’t open until it’s much colder, according to information provided by the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council.

In Pittsburgh, it has to be 25 degrees before winter shelters open; in both Olympia, Washington, and Austin, Texas, 32 degrees. And in Madison, Wisconsin, 20 degrees, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

At the Salvation Army in Montgomery, it dips below 40 degrees before Maj. Walter Strong said doors are open to “cold night residents” — and this week, 10 extra men and two additional women have taken residency at the shelter on Maxwell Boulevard.

There is room for about 15 or 20 more bodies. Already, 75 regular residents stay at the shelter.

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