Dangerous cold forces emergency shelters to stay open; organizations need supplies

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DENVER -- The long cold snap in Denver has already claimed several lives due to hypothermia, but several local shelters have been doing as much as they can to keep people off the streets and out of emergency rooms.

Zachary Chislum does not have a home, but he and many others are grateful to have a place to sleep in the past week.

“Normally we would only take two buses (to the shelter),” Chislum said. “Last night I think we had like six buses that went out.”

Chislum has been taking the bus to the Denver Rescue Mission's emergency shelter ever since it opened last week. On Thursday he was one of nearly 600 guests, a new record.

“If you come in to ask for a shelter, they’ll make sure you get shelter,” Chislum said.

Denver’s Road Home is helping coordinate the emergency sheltering efforts across Denver, and Chris Conner says even if they run out of beds, they won’t run out of space.

“We won’t turn somebody away for lack of a mat on our end,” Conner said.

The Salvation Army isn’t just taking in more people at its men’s and women’s shelter. They are also expanding hours.

“We’re not turning anybody away and we’re going to keep it going 24/7 until the temperature gets above freezing,” said Brett Van Sickle, director of the Salvation Army Crossroads Shelter.

The Salvation Army is also running a search and rescue vehicle throughout the cold snap. Two staff members drive around several times away looking for those who might need a place to stay. They also take calls from police and the public.

“If they’re just driving by and they see somebody freezing on a corner, they call our search and rescue line and we’ll go get the guy and pick him up and get him to shelter,” Van Sickle said.

It’s a service Dr. Christopher Colwell is thankful for. The director of emergency medicine for Denver Health has seen a jump in serious, cold related incidents in the past week.

“The fact that the shelters are able to expand when we get weather like this is a huge help because they really have no options when it gets this cold,” Dr. Colwell said. “We had another example of that this morning where there was a case of very, very severe, cold weather hypothermia that resulted in this patient dying.”

That’s why the added shelter will continue as long as the cold.

“It means a chance to survive to the next day for me,” Chislum said. “It keeps me out of the cold, gives me something to eat and it’s a way of saying, ‘Yes, we’re here to help you when all else fails.’”

In addition to bringing people to the shelters, the Salvation Army search and rescue teams also bring warmth to those who need it, but they need help to keep it up.

In the past week the Salvation Army has completely run out of gloves, hats and socks to hand out to those in need. If you can donate any items, please bring them to the Salvation Army Crossroads Shelter at 1901 29th St.​