DENVER (KDVR) – Colorado found itself in the middle of a cold snap Thursday morning which made the Denver drive a bit of a slow-moving mess, but had the potential to be much more serious for those experiencing homelessness.

When conditions reach a certain threshold and full-time shelters begin to near capacity, city officials step in to expand homeless services in order to give those stuck out in the elements a safe place to stay.

In the past, city officials told FOX31 there wasn’t a specific threshold for when these shelters but in the past year a plan was developed and implemented that includes guidelines around this.

Warming shelter activation thresholds

Denver Braces For Massive Snow Storm
(Credit: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

When forecasted conditions are expected to be severe, Denver’s Department of Housing Stability, also known as HOST, ventures out to conduct outreach efforts in order to get the homeless population informed of the incoming dangerous weather.

Specific conditions outlined by the City’s Emergency Operation Plan must be met in order for these shelters to be activated and opened up to those at risk.

These emergency weather center opening thresholds include:

  • The activation of a Wind Chill Advisory by the National Weather Service
    • As of this year, is generally when temperatures dip below 10 degrees or six or more inches of snow have been forecasted.
  • The activation of a Heat Advisory Warning by the National Weather Service
    • Generally, when the maximum heat index temperature is expected to be 100 degrees or higher for at least two days, and nighttime air temps are expected to not drop below 75 degrees.
  • The activation of a Watch or Warning by the National Weather Service

During a City Council Committee meeting held on Wednesday, an official with HOST said “no one was turned away from a shelter last winter.” That representative went on to say “some people claim to have not gotten into shelter but those situations need to be investigated.”

In response to this claim, a representative of the homeless advocacy group House Key Sanction Network said that this statement from HOST “underlines the complete dismissal of what houseless people themselves are [saying] is happening. Many of these incidents were reported and witnessed directly by advocates and the City’s own outreach partners and still, this reality is denied.”

Additionally, advocates of the homeless population have raised concerns that these thresholds, specifically the 10-degree barrier that must be met to get these warming centers open, are not adequate to keep the homeless population safe.

“Today, at City Council Safety Committee, DDPHE and city partners who participate in warming center activation, agreed to take another look at the thresholds,” Mikayla Ortega with the Denver Office of Emergency Management told FOX31.

Departments managing emergency weather centers

Denver Braces For Massive Snow Storm
(Credit: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

Ortega went on to say that there are several departments across the city that contribute to the opening and management of these emergency warming shelters.

Denver departments and agencies involved include:

  • Department of Public Health & Environment manages the health aspect
  • Department of Human Services handles the sheltering aspect
  • Parks and Recreation handles the resources aspect (IE: opening rec centers)
  • Department of Housing Stability is involved in coordination, should the regularly active shelters need support
  • “Office of Emergency Management is the managing agency that brings all the subject matter and expertise together and writes the plans based on their recommendations and research,” Ortega said.

If you are experiencing homelessness and would like to find a shelter near you, you can find the closest one on the city’s shelter page.

If would like to learn more about these emergency warming shelters, you can visit that same page to get the full breakdown.