With low temperatures near zero and snow forecast this weekend in Santa Fe, city officials and advocates for people experiencing homelessness are ramping up efforts to help ensure no one dies of exposure.
“We are activating ‘Code Blue,’ a procedure we put into place last year to address safety for unsheltered people during cold snaps,” city Community Health and Safety Department acting Director Kyra Ochoa wrote in an email Friday.
Ochoa said the Code Blue triggers alerts to shelters, hospitals and city departments of anticipated temperature drops and prompts fire department teams to reach out to people living outdoors to let them know the weather will be extreme. They also offer rides to shelters.
Also, hospitals prepare to allow unsheltered people remain in facilities and not to be discharged into the cold during a Code Blue, Ochoa wrote.
“If the people fire department staff come in contact with refuse transport to shelter, they are offered subzero sleeping bags and food,” she said.
The forecast low for Sunday is 3 degrees, with the high only reaching 17, with snow likely. Snow is also forecast for Saturday, with a high of 46 and low of 15.
Interfaith Community Shelter Director Joe Jordan-Berenis says the facility, better known as Pete’s Place, has a covered outdoor structure with portable heaters. People waiting to enter at 6 p.m. can be shielded from the elements before coming in for the night.
“We’re well aware of the temperature,” Jordan-Berenis said. “I monitor it all the time because of the issue of hypothermia.”
Jordan-Berenis said the shelter — the only come-as you are shelter in town that accepts anyone who needs a place to sleep and does not require people be sober to enter — also has a kennel so people who want to get out of the cold don’t have to choose between saving themselves or their pets.
This winter, the shelter has only been able to accept 30 people per night — down from its full capacity of 120 — due to the pandemic.
But Jordan-Berenis said the shelter is paying for hotel rooms for another 20 people — including some women in their 60s and 70s — who are sober, may be medically fragile and don’t need supervision.
Statistics are hard to come by, but local homeless advocates said Friday there is usually one exposure death per year in the city. The most recent, Jordan-Berenis said, was in October.
The Salvation Army on West Alameda Street has also partnered with the city to provide some overnight housing this winter.
Captain Immanuel Beeson said Friday the organization has 20 beds available on a first-come, first serve basis starting at 7 p.m.
Beeson said people generally begin lining up around 6:30 p.m. and are offered a warm meal, a hot drink and the ability to take a shower once inside.
Youth Shelters and Family Services normally only offers shelter to people under 18, but street outreach coordinator Paige Kitson said the organization has run an emergency winter shelter program the past two years, which provides hotel rooms for people between 18 and 24 years old.
“This weather is terrifying because it’s been so warm recently and a lot of people won’t be prepared for 1-degree weather and snow,” Kitson said. “However there is a lot going on to keep people safe.”
Joe Dudziak, a retired building inspector and carpenter who volunteered at Pete’s Place for about nine years before starting his own outreach program — Chaplain Joe’s Street Outreach — last winter, said he’ll be driving around this weekend, bringing help to people who can’t or won’t go to a shelter.
“I do a lot of driving around, looking in homeless nooks and crannies,” he said.
Dudziak provides help in the form of “sleeping bag packages” — white kitchen trash bags that contain two heavy-duty black plastic bags, a sleeping bag rated to zero degrees, three hand warmers, two pairs of good socks and 10 granola bars.
Dudziak said he’s given out 106 bags this year, up from 18 bags last year when he started the program.
Each kit costs about $50, he said, thanks in part to Big 5 Sporting Goods, which gives him a discounted price on the sleeping bags. He raises the money through donations.
New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness Director Hank Hughes estimated there are hundreds of people living on the streets of Santa Fe this winter.
“There are about 200 in motels and another 100 in shelters, so 300 that we know about, and who knows how many sleeping outside,” he said Friday.