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Frigid Temperatures Extremely Dangerous for the Homeless
01/03/2014   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Wind chill readings around the Northeast have plummeted below zero in some places, with parts of Maine feeling as cold as minus 45 degrees. For the homeless, the frigid temperatures make an already difficult situation even more challenging. MPBN News' Susan Sharon followed one outreach worker on her rounds in Lewiston as she tried to make sure people were safe and warm.

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They start lining up for dinner outside the Hope Haven Gospel Mission just after 4:00 pm. One man is wearing only a sweatshirt and workboots. One man has on shoes but no socks. It's four below zero. The wind is blowing. It's snowing. And Lacey Donle is there to greet them.

Lacey Donle: "Do you have a place for tonight?"
Curtis Snyder: "I can stay with Ian, probably."
Lacey Donle: "Are you sure?...Just as long as you have a warm place, dude."
Curtis Snyder: "That's all I need is a warm place."

Donle is an outreach worker with New Beginnings, a program that works to keep teens and young adults like Curtis Snyder off the streets and helps the homeless find housing. Snyder had been hoping to get a bed at the Hope Haven shelter. Meantime, another man from the soup kitchen offers to take him in for the night. Snyder said he's been homeless for about three years.

"It's pretty rough during the wintertime," Snyder said. "I mean I try to find like a heated parking garage or a cardboard dumpster to keep the wind away or keep me covered from the snow and the rain and all that."

Inside the soup kitchen about 20 people line up for barbecue spareribs and heaping piles of homemade mashed potatoes. Almost all of them are men. Donle introduces herself to the guy who only has on a sweatshirt. She helps him score the last bed at the shelter. Before we leave, Donle gives him her card. Her goal, she said, is just to make a connection, maybe eventually help find him a permanent place to live. But she said her most pressing matter is a family that is sleeping in a garden shed.

"They go to bed with all their clothes and their hats and mittens and coat on and wake up in the morning very cold, seeing their breath and go outside, start the car and get going in the car and get into a warm place as soon as they can," Donle said.

A few blocks away, Donle leads me up a flight of wooden stairs to the back door of a drop-in center where young people ages 14 to 21 can hang out for a few hours in the afternoons.

"You can shower. You can eat. You can be warm. You can watch TV, which is a really good thing for them to have," said Harli Cassidy. She walked about two miles without mittens or winter boots to get here. By the time she arrived, she said her hands were freezing. She has a place to stay for the night and probably for the next week.

"Last winter I stayed in an abandoned apartment with some of my friends because that's the only place I could stay," said Cassidy. "So, it does get rough, especially winter. Like if it was summertime, I don't really think people would have that much of a problem with it, but definitely in the winter when it's like 21 below, definitely it's really hard to be sleeping outside."

19-year-old Brooke Deschene's been coming here for several years. She recently got an apartment and considers herself extremely fortunate since there are an estimated 300 homeless kids in Lewiston and a teen shelter with just 12 beds.

"And it's scary," Deschene said. "You know, I feel like there should be more opportunities for the homeless that are here. There's 12 beds and there's 300 homeless kids. I'm sorry. I don't think that's acceptable. There should be more opportunities than what there is."

Deschene said sometimes kids will go to the hospital and say they are sick just to find a place that's open, comfortable and warm. Otherwise, she said, they can usually be found sleeping in the hallways of apartment buildings. These hard luck stories took their toll on outreach worker Lacey Donle. She actually quit her job last year.

"I said I didn't have the heart for it anymore," Donle said. "If someone would call and say they needed help, I would just have this feeling of dread and, Oh, here we go again. And I didn't think it was fair to stay here if I wasn't totally invested in helping them."

But a few months later, Donle was back, reconnecting with her co-workers and especially the clients. She found that without this work, her heart ached more than ever before. "Sometimes, she said, you just don't know what you have 'til it's gone."


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