Homeless seek shelter, Bay Area fights frostbite


The freezing temperatures are a dangerous threat to the homeless, who can't find a bed in a shelter.

"I would be outside. I would literally be outside," said Gerald Ashby.

A day before Thanksgiving and Ashby is grateful. The dining hall at St. Vincent de Paul is where he slept last night. With protection from the freezing cold, Nina Garcia slept here too.

"We slept right there next to that false tree in the corner right there," said Garcia.

St. Vincent de Paul serves three meals a day and rotates a nightly shelter program with 15 other congregations beginning in December. With extreme cold in the forecast, they knew they had to open immediately as part of their emergency plan.

"It becomes a serious condition for a lot of people living on the streets who are already in poor health, elderly, a lot of our diners here have chronic illness, so when you combine that with living outside and then the freezing temperatures, it becomes dangerous," says Christen Paquette from St. Vincent De Paul.

Fifty people slept on the floor here last night, and for Wednesday night they are expecting 70. The only other nightly shelter is Mills Street, but they only have 50 beds. Two years ago the county estimated 1,700 homeless living in Marin -- that was before the economy went south. Those running the shelter say they have seen about a 30 percent increase in people who need services. Those who live on the street agree.

"There are more and more homeless coming to Marin because it's supposed to be such a rich place, but it's not rich when it comes to homeless people. There are just so many beds and so many people," says Ashby.

Those who live in the county realize the need.

"Usually give two turkeys, but this time it just seemed like, my goodness, four turkeys didn't even seem adequate," said Mill Valley resident Falvio Gomez.

A few reminders with temperatures dipping into the 20s in some locations tonight, plants need to be covered, pets need to be brought in and make sure what keeps you warm inside is safe.

"People should have their furnaces inspected and service in case there is a problem. Fireplaces... make sure if they do light a fire for the first time, that the flu is open," says San Rafael Fire Chief Jeff Rowan.

There have been lots of people giving to the St. Vincent De Paul shelter.

The shelter will be open for one more night on Thursday night, but after that it depends upon the weather.

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