Ahead of bitter cold, advocates reach out to homeless

As the temperatures reach dangerously cold levels, advocates are reaching out to those experiencing homelessness.

Minnesotans are preparing for bitter cold temperatures over the next few days, but for some having a place to stay inside is a luxury.

"In Hennepin County tonight, we expect that we will have around 1,400 people in homeless shelters," said David Hewitt, the director of the Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness.

Hewitt says that number includes 1,100 individuals struggling with homelessness, which is about 200 more than this time last year and the most ever for the county. There are around 50 to 60 families struggling with homelessness, a low number compared to what the county is used to and about one third of this time last year. 

"This last year though, we believe, the eviction moratorium and rental assistance we’ve seen a significant drop in the number of families in shelter," said Hewitt.

With cold weather coming, the county and many local nonprofits have outreach teams going to places, like encampments, to help people find places to stay. Hewitt says three new shelters have opened in Hennepin County and they’re utilizing hotel space to reduce the number of people congregated in one area.

"This has been an incredibly effective measure in controlling the spread and we’ve had very low [COVID-19] numbers amongst those experiencing homelessness generally," he said.

Public work crews are also hustling to get ahead of the cold, by plowing that fresh layer of snow before it turns into a layer of stale ice.