The death of a homeless Alabama man on Christmas Eve due to extremely cold temperatures is highlighting what local shelters are doing in the battle to protect the homeless in our area from potentially life-threatening situations.
Ronald Smith, the director of the Friendship Mission in Montgomery, says freezing temperatures are a constant threat to those living on the street.
"It's dangerous- very dangerous. By the time you think that you've got it covered, the cold has snuck up on you and you really can't do anything for yourself and then hypothermia sets in. Then it's too late," he said.
On Christmas Eve in downtown Birmingham, a 56-year-old homeless man died of accidental hypothermia as temperatures dipped to 26 degrees.
AL.com reports that 56-year-old Kerry Washington was found on the 400 block of 1st Street South at 7:40 a.m. He was semi-conscious. Washington was taken to UAB Hospital but he died two hours later.
It's exactly what local shelters work to prevent. This week, we've seen temperatures dip below freezing several nights. On Christmas Eve, the lowest temperature was 29 degrees and on Christmas Day, it was 25. On Thursday night, temperatures were expected to be in the low to mid 30s.
The Friendship Mission on Mobile Highway and the Salvation Army on Maxwell Boulevard are seeing an influx of guests trying to escape the frigid weather.
"Here at the Salvation Army in Montgomery, we do have a cold night which any night the temperature gets to 35 or below, we get those individuals that are on the street out of the cold, set them up and give them a safe place to stay, give them a hot meal, warm place to sleep and shower. That's the least we can do," said Jason Davis, Program Director. "We'll probably see about 65 men, 10-15 women and then we'll also have three or four families in so they are utilizing our program. We are glad we can help them."
"On any given cold night, we always leave our doors open and we house as many as we can. We try to get it out to the streets that we are open, we are available, that you can come and have a good hot meal, that you can rest," Ronald Smith added about the Friendship Mission.
But there are many more who don't know what resources are out there or simply choose not to seek shelter.
"We can't make these individuals take advantage of our services but we do want to help," Davis told WSFA.
"Pride takes over a lot of time," Smith added. "Plus, there's a lot that goes into it. You have to take into account a person's mental capacity, how long they've been out on the street and possible addiction problems. This all impacts their decisions, choices and judgement."
Officials say the news about the hypothermia death coming out of Birmingham shows that there's still a lot of work that needs to be done with it comes to helping the homeless.
Both the Friendship Mission and Salvation Army open their doors to men, women and children and their services are free.
Here is a list of local shelters:
1720 Valley View Drive