Shelters, emergency officials prepare for severe weather this weekend

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DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) — Facing the possibility of severe weather this weekend, shelter and emergency officials are preparing in the event their services are needed.

“The main thing we’re doing is trying to reach out into the community, trying to find any homeless who haven’t come in from the weather yet,” said Rob Tart, the CEO and President of the Durham Rescue Mission.

Tart said they are less concerned about the drop in temperatures and wind as they are about precipitation.

“It’s hypothermia and frostbite. There’s been many times people have come in seasons like this, they’ve damaged their hands, they’ve damaged their toes,” Tart said.

He added that nobody in need will be turned away, and people do not need to register or sign-up for programs to access shelter or a hot meal; however, they will need to leave the following morning if they do not partake in a service. Tart explained that residential clients will be separated from people seeking shelter overnight due to COVID-19 concerns, adding the pandemic has created an obstacle in connecting with people experiencing homelessness.

“There’s just been more fear. Even this whole two years, there’s been a lot of the homeless who have been afraid to come into any kind of congregate setting like this. And we’ve noticed that,” Tart said.

Friday, Ari Schein, interim chief emergency manager for Durham County, explained he had met with the Public Health director and Social Services staff to discuss shelter protocols and plans.

“If you are not, for example, medically-dependent or have other needs, then we’ll be able to get you in. And if there are additional needs of getting you someplace more fit for your circumstances, then those announcements will be made at the time we open the shelter,” said Schein.

Schein explained if they do open their shelters, they will be enforcing the county’s existing mask mandate.

“There may be a quarantine or isolation section of the shelter, there may be a general population section of the shelter,” said Schein.

He urged people to alter travel plans Sunday and to stay off the roads. People should double-check flashlights and batteries, and make sure they have non-perishable food, bottled water, and medications if necessary.

In the event of a power outage, Schein said people need to take precautions in seeking heating sources.

“Space heaters are responsible for (a lot) of fires, (such as) the fire in New York City recently in a 19-story structure. Also there’s carbon monoxide gas that will be given off by most heating devices, which includes your stove if you’re trying to stay warm. So please if you can’t maintain yourself with the ability to stay warm, don’t ask improvised methods. That’s when you need to reach out, and if we need to get you some place, we’ll be able to do so,” said Schein.

Instead, people should layer up with sweaters, jackets, blankets, hats and gloves. Closing blinds and curtains can prevent drafts, as can putting towels or blankets near cracks in doors.

In the event you need an alternate place to stay, the CDC suggested finding a hotel or smaller facility first rather than a large congregate setting. If you do seek shelter in any congregate setting, make sure to bring masks, and alert staff if you have any COVID-19 symptoms.

For people interested in contributing to The Durham Rescue Mission, they are in need of undergarments like socks, as well as toiletries including toothpaste and toothbrushes.

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