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Cold snap more than just nuisance for Kansas City's houseless

Resident at Shelter KC
Posted at 11:07 PM, Feb 28, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The recent cold snap is more than just a temporary nuisance — it can be deadly for people who aren't prepared for it.

KC Shelter says it can be a serious problem for people who begin to expect warmer weather, and are suddenly hit with freezing temperatures.

Todd Miller explained what it's like living through the ups and downs KC's weather brings.

"I spent a year-and-a-half in my car," he said. "It's just hard that people don't understand what a homeless person really has to go through."

The way he tells it, he was out of the wind and wet and had plenty of insulation.

"I had friends that brought me blankets and pillows," he said.

He had a support system that kept him alive, and eventually got into Shelter KC.

But, he'll tell you he's one of the lucky ones.

"There's a lot of guys here that have slept outside with nothing over them, just a blanket or a piece of paper or something else," Miller said. "It's very tough on them."

There's no better example about that than a fire at a homeless camp near east 20th Street and Troost Avenue on Wednesday.

Two people were hospitalized, one of them in critical condition.

KCFD says the reason it got out of hand is still being investigated, but when it gets cold suddenly, people get desperate.

Fires at camps are often used to stay alive when there's no other option.

"It's really a challenge when it comes out of the blue," said Eric Burger, executive director of Shelter KC. "Because once it's cold people are ready."

When it's warm like it's been lately, many people aren't ready for it.

Layers get shed, coats get left behind while their wearers look forward to warmer weather, then a cold snap hits.

"Sometimes the only communications that they're getting about the weather is from our staff, our outreach workers. So sometimes it's educating people, 'Hey, I know it looks good now, but tonight it's going to be X, this would be a good night to get into the shelter,'" Burger said.

That's exactly why shelters encourage people to come off the streets and into temporary housing.

"Sometimes what we're trying to do is just keep you safe so that you don't die so when you have that moment of clarity and you want to get help, you're able to do that," Burger said.