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For Kansas Citians Out In The Cold, Finding A Warm Place To Rest Could Be Life Or Death

A man who identified himself as "Jason" found some shelter Thursday morning in an alcove outside Auditorium Plaza Garage. He spent the night in Bartle Hall but was uncertain where he would go during the day to keep warm and was unaware of the extreme cold heading this way.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
A man who identified himself as Jason found some shelter Thursday morning in an alcove outside Auditorium Plaza Garage. He spent the night in Bartle Hall but was uncertain where he would go during the day to keep warm and was unaware of the extreme cold heading this way.

People experiencing homelessness are under added pressure to find safe shelter as temperatures drop well below zero degrees.

A brutally cold blast of air will grip the Kansas City metro for several more days —potentially bringing wind chill temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero Saturday and Sunday.

Meteorologist Emily Klaus at the National Weather Service’s Pleasant Hill office says temperatures this low are extremely unusual.

“In my memory, I’ve never seen anything like that in Missouri,” Klaus said.

As if the wind chill wasn’t enough, Klaus predicts more snow falling, possibly Sunday.

“You got this super cold air coming in and it’s traveling over the snow as well,” Klaus said. “It’s just creating this intensely cold air that’s a little abnormal from what we’ve seen.”

That means road conditions will remain hazardous. Homeowners will need to take extra care. Pets will need to be carefully monitored.

For Kansas City’s most vulnerable residents, temperatures could be deadly — putting additional pressure on people experiencing homelessness to find safety.

A man who identified himself only as Jason said he spent his first night in Scott Eicke Warming Center inside Bartle Hall Wednesday. He was trying to keep warm Thursday morning in an alcove attached to Auditorium Plaza Garage.

He didn’t know where he would go during the day and was struggling to figure out where to go next.

“There are some places around (to get warm),” he said. “I might go to this garage over here but they might chase me out.”

The Scott Eicke center is named in memory of a 41-year-old man who froze to death on New Year’s Day. It has been accommodating around 300 people a night, said city spokesperson Chris Hernandez.

Other shelters have extended their hours because of the weather.

“Right now we’re doing everything we can to keep people safe,” said Eric Burger, executive director at Shelter KC at 1520 Cherry Street. They operate two shelters, one for men and another for women at 2611 E. 11th Street.

Burger said normally the shelters close during the day, but with these extreme cold temperatures, they are staying open.

Plus, they’re not turning anyone away — even people who might have broken a rule who would normally be asked to leave.

“We’re trying to have some flexibility,” he said. “The challenge that is still trying to do that socially distanced in the COVID era.”

Burger said so far, they’ve been able to find shelter for people in their facility or drive them to somewhere where they can stay warm. Because the weather has been so cold for so long, he said he hasn’t seen a crush of people seeking shelter. Many have already found arrangements and places to stay.

Likewise, Donna Mandelbaum, communications director at KC Streetcar, said that the number of riders using the streetcars to keep warm has decreased because the warming shelter at Bartle Hall has offered a reprieve from the cold.

She said normally riders are not allowed to ride the streetcars continuously. But because of the continued intense cold, they are permitting people to disembark briefly at Union Station and get back on after the operator sweeps through the cabin.

While Kansas City Parks and Recreation centers are open during the weekdays for warming, they will not be open Saturday and Sunday.

Ride KC buses stationed in several locations around town will be operating and open to people looking to get out of the dangerously cold temperatures when the temperature falls below 10 degrees.

A map of area warming shelters is available here, but the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services recommends calling ahead to ensure there is enough room.

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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