NEW YORK CITY – February 5, 2007 – Due to the extremely cold weather, homeless individuals living on the city streets could be at risk for exposure and possibly death. In response, New York City's Department of Homeless Services has instituted its Cold Weather Emergency Procedure on a 24-hour basis. DHS and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) will deploy outreach teams to help keep homeless people safe. In addition to outreach teams deployed by DHS, DOHMH contracts with outreach teams to provide assistance during the day including relocation to a warm place, and help getting mental health and substance abuse services. The agencies are asking New Yorkers to help by calling 3-1-1 with information about anyone who may be at risk.
"This cold weather can be downright dangerous and we don't want anyone dying on the streets," said DHS Commissioner Robert V. Hess. "We have outreach teams on the streets 24 hours a day, seven days a week encouraging homeless individuals to come in for a warm meal and shelter. But we can't be everywhere at once so we're asking fellow New Yorkers to help us by calling 311 or our outreach hotline. A team will be sent to check on that person and make sure he or she is okay."
"Many people who are living on the streets suffer from illnesses that can make them particularly vulnerable to these types of weather conditions," said DOHMH Executive Deputy Commissioner Lloyd I. Sederer, M.D. "Their care starts by keeping them safe and getting them off the street."
Here are some symptoms of cold weather illnesses to look out for:
- Hypothermia: shivering, grogginess, muddled thinking, slurred speech, sluggishness, confusion, dizziness, shallow breathing and unusual behavior.
- Frostbite: gray, white or yellow skin discoloration, numbness and waxy feeling skin.
DHS outreach teams are instructed to:
- identify and regularly monitor clients who may be at risk during cold weather
- assist at-risk clients to voluntarily come indoors
- arrange for involuntary transport of at-risk clients, when appropriate
- call 911 for any homeless individual who is drinking alcohol, hallucinating and/or grossly disorganized.
If someone on the street looks like they need assistance, concerned citizens should call 311 or the BRC hotline at (212) 533-5151. In an emergency, dial 911. During a Cold Weather Alert, drop-in centers and shelters are open to anyone in need.
General tips for staying warm:
- Wear a hat, hood, or scarf, as most heat is lost through the head.
- Wear layers, as they provide better insulation and warmth.
- Keep fingertips, earlobes, and noses covered if you go outside.
- Keep clothing dry; if a layer becomes wet, remove it.
- Drinking alcohol can be dangerous: Alcohol doesn't make you warmer and drinking alcohol when outside in the cold weather is dangerous: it increases one's risk for hypothermia and frostbite.