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Shelters overflow with homeless in cold snap

Posted: November 18, 2011 - 1:06am

ANCHORAGE — The cold snap gripping Anchorage is forcing the homeless inside where shelters are crowded and overflowing — something that normally happens later in the winter.

The Brother Francis Shelter reached its limit this week, causing Bean’s Café next door to accept the overflow, the Anchorage Daily News reported Thursday.

Brother Francis program director Dewayne Harris said people are streaming in to the facility, which has exceeded its emergency capacity of 240 people almost every night so far in November.

The shelter provided as many or more beds during the past month as it does during what are typically much colder months in Anchorage, he said.

While the November counts are higher than in past years, the city doesn’t expect Brother Francis and Bean’s to exceed their overall capacity, said to Darrel Hess, Anchorage’s homeless coordinator. If the shelters reach their limits, fire codes would force them to turn people away, as there is no legally authorized overflow, he said.

Hess doesn’t think numbers will be higher in January. It’s not likely to get colder than it has been recently, and there are only so many people willing to come in out of the cold anyway, no matter how low the thermometer drops or how hard the wind blows, he said.

The temperature Tuesday dipped to 8 degrees, with wind gusts up to 30 mph. The mercury fell even lower in some parts of the city on Wednesday.

“This kind of weather brings in the hard-core campers who normally won’t go to the shelter,” Hess said.

A city ordinance allows churches to open their doors to homeless individuals, but so far none have gone through the process of getting authorized, Hess said. The process to get a conditional-use permit can be costly and take months, and the churches cannot take in anyone on drugs or alcohol, a large portion of the homeless population, he said.

“I guess the reality is there’s no legally authorized overflow shelter beyond Bean’s Cafe,” Hess said.

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