Cold snaps and homeless: 'We ran into a whole bevy of frostbite victims'

Cold snaps and homeless: 'We ran into a whole bevy of frostbite victims' »Play Video
Homeless advocates are concerned about campers in places like Whoville as bitter cold looms in the forecast

EUGENE, Ore. — Area residents who are homeless are preparing for the second major cold snap of the winter, with the possibility of ice and freezing rain in the forecast.

The way they are preparing is based off of lessons they learned from last December’s winter storm.

Last December’s storm left residents with property damage and bodily injuries that some are still recovering from.

“In just one day, we ran into a whole bevy of frostbite victims,” said Sue Sierralupe, clinic manager for Occupy Medical.

Sierralupe said some residents of Whoville and even those not belonging to the group are still healing from frostbite wounds and other injuries from being exposed to below zero temperatures last December.

Occupy Medical offers free healthcare to the area homeless, especially SLEEPS protesters.

They are pushing all homeless to Egan Warming Centers to get out of the elements caused by below freezing temperatures.

Sierralupe said those who think they can brave the elements are putting themselves at risk for injuries.

“Those that are the most exposed to cold and the most likely to get frostbite get the worst case of frostbite,” she said.

Sierralupe said Occupy Medical has not seen the need for amputations yet, but they have had some close calls. She said the clinic is concerned that new wounds could form on top of or in the same place as old wounds to those being exposed to the cold.

“That is the thing we are really worried about is that we have people who may have had chilblains or frostnip, and they're just in the healing process. And chilblains will heal itself. But you get another series of cold weather on top of that, and then you've really got some trouble,” Sierralupe said.

She said the main cause of frostbite among area homeless is wet socks and gloves. She said she has seen many cases where someone was wearing wet sock and gloves to stay warm, but the water crystals froze while the person was wearing them. Basically, the person was wearing frozen clothing instead of something that could keep him or her warm.

“Dry socks are like gold in these camps,” Sierralupe said. “They can be changed out frequently and keep these folks warm.”

But while hundreds are expected to fill the Egan Warming Centers, one group designed to help the homeless transition off the streets has set up its own warming center to help ease the workload of St. Vincent De Paul volunteers.

Opportunity Village has set up a yurt tent near its front gate. The tent has a pellet stove and is sealed off from the outside cold temperatures. When the temperature is below freezing, nearly all of the residents in the community are allowed to sleep in the tent.

John Ellsworth, Opportunity Village resident, said though the bungalows and Conestoga Huts where residents live may have some insulation, there is no electricity for a heater, and during ice storm conditions, the huts have had some structural issues.

“The structures has built up snow and ice and several of them caved in. There were some broken pipes. So I guess it got pretty rough here the last time it got cold,” Ellsworth said.

He said most of Opportunity Village’s resident choose to sleep in the Yurt, but some have been known to brave the cold in their bungalow or hut by themselves. The village is hoping that the temperatures will not stick around long and that Saturday’s forecast for icy conditions will be more a rain event.

“I'm hoping for the best, and we're going to prepare for the worst. Hopefully we can just get through this, and it doesn't last too long,” Ellsworth said.

Warming Shelters to Open

Egan Warming Centers planned to open shelters in Springfield at the 7th Day Adventist Church, 1630 12th Street, on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, if necessary.

A shelter at the Catholic Community Services Site will open Wednesday.

In the River Road area, a shelter will open at Trinity United on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; will not open Thursday; and will open Friday at Dayspring.

Egan volunteers plan to open shelters at First Christian, Hosea and Valley Covenant every night this week.