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Fears hypothermia will kill homeless during historic cold snap in US Midwest

3 February 2019 23:09

Harrowing social media images of homeless people covered in snow have raised concerns that many dispossessed Americans might freeze to death from the severe cold gripping the American east and Midwest.

The recent Arctic freeze, which began last week, had claimed the lives of at least 21 people as of Sunday.

The cold wave broke at least 40 cold-temperature records on Thursday, prompting worries about the lives of thousands of homeless people living in the affected areas could lose their lives as a result of hypothermia.

In Chicago, one of the cities hardest hit, officials started to take emergency measures after the National Weather Service warned citizens that frostbite was possible in under 10 minutes.

An estimated 80,000 people are homeless in the Chicago area, though the actual number could be much bigger as the estimates vary a great deal.

City authorities in Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago have attempted to locate and shelter the homeless. But the prospect of seeking refuge in shelters is not so much appealing to the homeless.

People sleep in tents at a wooded area near the Dan Ryan Expressway as the temperature drops below zero late on Jan. 29, 2019, in Chicago. (Photo by Chicago Tribune)

Despite authorities’ attempts to open more warming centers for the homeless, however, there were still reports of weather-related deaths.

The US metropolises are no stranger to homelessness or cold weather, but the homeless encampments in the Midwest are facing other problems as well.

Asked why he wouldn’t go to a shelter, Neeley, a homeless man, said: “A lot of us don’t go to the shelters because of bedbugs, we don’t go because people steal from you, we don’t go because you can’t even really sleep in the shelter. But my feet are cold, and these clothes are all I’ve got.”

Fearing he wouldn’t survive the night he said: “I’m cold and I’m afraid,” before explaining that he was trying to raise $45 from passers-by so he could spend the night in a motel room.

A homeless woman gets ready for bed in a warming center at the Salvation Army’s Freedom Center on January 29, 2019. (Photo by Chicago Tribune)

The cold stretch that has ravaged through the Midwest was caused by the polar vortex which is a huge heap of frosty air, usually moving towards the Arctic Circle.

Homeless people were among the most vulnerable as the numbing arctic weather hit the US last week. Hypothermia and frostbite proved fatal to the less fortunate Americans.

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