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Homeless Shelters Brace For Winter Influx

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Cold spells are felt the hardest in the D.C. area's homeless population.
Markette Smith
Cold spells are felt the hardest in the D.C. area's homeless population.

Imagine one degree in temperature completely changing the course of your day. For homeless men and women in Arlington, Virginia, it's the deciding factor on whether or not they can stay in the warmth of an emergency winter shelter.

The difference of a degree

"If the high for the day is predicted to be below freezing, then we have an agreement with the county that we're committed to keep the shelter open during the day," explains Meg Tucillo of Arlington Street Peoples Assistance Network.

The high for Tuesday is expected to be 33 degrees -- one degree above freezing. Tucillo is hopeful forecast will change, otherwise, she says, "Our clients need to be gone by 9 a.m. in the morning."

For those affected, this may be the last winter that policy is in effect. In December, the Arlington County Board voted to move forward on making an offer to purchase a building in the Courthouse Metro neighborhood that may include a year-round Homeless Services Center with shelter beds. If the county is able to purchase the building, then planning and debate will be opened as to best use of the facility.

The struggle for families

But what about families in need of housing? John Woodard of the Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless says his agency has space in its longterm shelter for 10 families at their Clarendon facility -- women and children only. During the coldest time of the year, he says the need for services is overwhelming.

"Weather doesn't stop evictions," says Woodard. I would dare say, if people think about it, everybody knows somebody who's on the verge or one paycheck away from living under a bridge."

According to Woodard, if it's a dire situation, the county may pay for a family to stay in a hotel.

"We're not going to put people out on the street in the sub-zero weather, but it s a cost to the county, its a cost to the taxpayer and it's a problem because people don't have other places to go."

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