With predictions of extra-cold weather this weekend, emergency shelters have opened at Seattle Center and elsewhere, and Seattle Police are operating a “cold-weather van” to help homeless people find places to warm up.
Deborah Daoust, spokeswoman for Seattle Center, said the walk-in shelter in the Rainier Room at 305 Harrison St., which opened Dec. 3, will be open from 8:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. at least through Sunday night.
The Armory there, otherwise known as the Food Atrium (and formerly known as the Food Court) opens at 7 a.m. so people leaving shelters can stay warm until outside temperatures moderate.
“Every morning, there have been many people hanging out just keeping warm,” she said.
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Seattle Police Officer Jeff Kappel said the cold-weather van, which operates only at night, is parked at the West Precinct office and staffed by two community-policing officers.
“Any officer on patrol that sees a transient in that homeless capacity that looks like they need assistance, or is freezing or in distress can call for the cold-weather van,” he said.
Sometimes, the person just wants to get warm in the van for a while; other times, they’ll be taken to a shelter, he said. “We’ll do it as long as the extreme cold weather lasts, and as long as we can afford it,” he said. “It’s truly a humanitarian operation on behalf of the Seattle Police Department.”
Rick Reynolds, executive director of Operation Nightwatch, which helps people find space in shelters, said shelters have been going to extraordinary lengths to use every square inch of space to pack in as many people as possible.
“It’s hard; there is a lot of anxiety,” said Reynolds, whose organization brought knit caps, handwarmers and pizza last week to the residents of Tent City 3, at the Bryn Mawr United Methodist Church near Skyway.
The National Weather Service forecast a low temperature of 18 degrees Saturday night; warmer weather is expected by Tuesday, with highs of about 39 forecast in the Seattle area, and overnight lows that stay above freezing.
Last January, Reynolds said, the annual One Night Count of homeless found more than 2,700 people sleeping outside in Seattle.
The recent cold weather has opened many doors, he said. “There’s an extraordinary effort going on now — the city, the county, compassionate friends, letting a homeless person sleep on their couch. There’s a lot of below-the-radar efforts to help homeless people survive.”
But Reynolds said he worries about what’s going to happen after the weather warms up and extra shelters close. “When it’s 40 degrees and raining, they’re just as exposed and vulnerable,” he said. “People can die of exposure at 50 degrees if they get wet.”
Those in need should check with shelters to confirm availability, or call 211 for help with social-service resources. There is a list of shelters at this website:bit.ly/1boEvya
Carol M. Ostrom: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2249. On Twitter @costrom