Fox News Weather Center

Homeless Suffer Through Harshest Winter in Years

The brutally cold winter of 2013-14 is having a major impact on some of the America's most vulnerable: the homeless.

The extreme cold affecting the Midwest and Northeast will continue through this weekend, meteorologists said.

In January 2013, more than 610,000 people were homeless in the United States on a given night, according to The 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

The report, produced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), stated that 35 percent of the homeless lived in unsheltered locations.

La Crosse, Wis., is experiencing its worst winter since 1979.

There are about 1,200 people homeless in the La Crosse area, according to an estimate provided by Mary Fitzpatrick of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of La Crosse.

"Some people here didn't think we have homeless," Fitzpatrick said.

Catholic Charities operates a warming center that initially served 15 people each night in a La Crosse Baptist church.

"Our mission is to keep people alive right now," Fitzpatrick said.

A hot meal is prepared every night off-site and brought to the center, she said.

Because of the permit the City of La Crosse issued for the warming center, Catholic Charities was not able to provide sleeping quarters for their guests, but they have received permission to use recliners instead.

Thanks to the donation of more recliners and the city's permission, the center is able to now serve 19 people, Fitzpatrick said.

"We hate to turn people away," she said.

The center opened four winters ago in response to a gap in services in the La Crosse area, Fitzpatrick said.

"There was a sub-group of people [including those with criminal convictions that prohibited them to be around children or women] that had nowhere to go," he said.

Bitterly cold weather is expected in La Crosse through at least Tuesday, Meteorologist Randy Adkins said.

"It will be 14 below zero on Saturday night with a reinforcing shot of arctic air," Adkins said. "Temperatures will moderate for the early to middle part of next week."

La Crosse broke a 139-year-old record for the all-time record minimum high temperature on Feb. 27 with 6 F, which occurred at 12:24 a.m. CST. The previous record was 8 F, set in 1875.

Minneapolis has had 46 sub-zero days as of Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, the 8th most on record, according to the National Weather Service.

More than 2,300 people sought shelter in Minneapolis and Hennepin County on Tuesday, Feb. 25, according to Mikkel Beckmen of End Homelessness in Hennepin County.

"We have a pretty well-developed shelter system for families and single adults, but we currently don't have enough shelter for homeless youth," Beckmen said.

"In our warming centers, we typically have five to 30 youth on a given night."

Sixty youth sought refuge in a warming center on Tuesday, Beckmen said.

As many as 200 of the homeless in Hennepin County live outdoors; others have to walk everywhere they go because of a lack of money for transportation.

"We worry about that with people," Beckmen said. "We worry about people getting run down and becoming susceptible to illness such as chest colds and pneumonia."

"When I left for work [on Thursday], it was 15 below zero. With temperatures like this, there is always the concern about exposure and people having damage done to their fingers, toes, arms, legs and skin on the face."

The frigid air will also continue for Minneapolis, Adkins said.

Saturday night's low temperature will be minus 16 F and minus 10 F on Sunday night, Adkins said.

One sign of trouble for the homeless is the number of "Code Blue" nights issued in communities that make an extra effort to help them.

Buffalo, N.Y., has set a record for the number of "Code Blue" nights for the winter of 2013-14 with more than 45. Code Blue, which began in 2009 in Buffalo, is issued when the temperature drops to 15 F or lower, Megan Bingham of Friends of Night People said.

There are about 1,000 homeless people on a given night in Buffalo and Erie County, Bingham said as she cited Homeless Alliance of Western New York statistics. Four hundred people are documented as being chronically homeless.

The people served by Friends of Night People are getting very edgy about the extended cold and snow, Bingham said.

"I think this weather is getting very tiresome," she said. "We get to come to a warm building, leave and get to go to a warm building, while they have to walk everywhere they go and not have a warm building to go to."

More people are using the group's medical and podiatry clinics this winter.

"We see a lot of ankle and leg swelling. It's a common symptom of living on the street," Bingham said. "There are also a lot of sore throats and common colds."

Only 25 Code Blue nights were issued in Buffalo during the winter of 2012-13.

In Buffalo, highs Sunday through Tuesday will be in the teens to about 20 F with nighttime lows in the low single digits.

Temperatures will moderate but will still be well below-normal by the end of next week, Adkins said.