Helping homeless population stay safe during freezing temperatures

HUNTSVILLE, Ala - Folks in Huntsville are feeling the chill this week as cooler temperatures move through, but first responders want to make sure everyone is staying warm.

Madison County Emergency Management held their quarterly meeting with several city agencies Tuesday morning. Representatives from the Madison County Sheriff's Office, Huntsville Police Department, HEMSI and the fire department were present. There was also an organization present you might not expect - the Salvation Army.

2,570 people experienced at least one night of homelessness in Alabama last year, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Protecting the homeless during periods of extreme cold is a priority for first responders.

"We have a rather large homeless population right now in Huntsville, Madison County, so the thing is we need to protect these people," HEMSI Community Relations Officer Don Webster said.

Emergency responders are all too familiar with how dangerous freezing temperatures can be.

"We don't want anybody to freeze to death, or get deathly cold, or deathly sick out there, because this is some bad weather that we're expecting," Webster added.

There are a couple of emergency shelters in Huntsville. The Salvation Army offers a hot meal and a place to stay every night. They can house up to 62 people and it's first come first serve.

"For the most part, when the weather gets cold we do get to capacity pretty quickly. So it's good to be there in line right after dinner," caseworker Darlene Burton explained.

In addition to their emergency shelter, the Salvation Army will also open up their dining room as a warming shelter once the temperature dips below 40 degrees.

The cold weather on the horizon has other groups getting ready as well.

"Several organizations are already gathering coats, and gloves, and hats right now to pass out to the homeless camps," Webster said.

Grateful Life Church in Huntsville is also working to set up a warming shelter, and plan to open their doors Saturday. The church is located on Oakwood Avenue, and they are in desperate need of blankets. They are asking people to contact them before bringing donations to the church. They can easily be reached on their Facebook page or by talking to Elder Joe, who can be reached at (256) 585-1984.

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