COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Cold weather is now a major concern for the city's homeless, and those who try to provide for them. Over the weekend, frigid temperatures claimed the life of one man who was familiar with life on the streets. Homeless advocates are working to prevent another incident.
Even in the daytime, it's been cold enough along with the gusty winds we've been getting to become very uncomfortable if you're not bundled up. But at night, we're talking about rough conditions for those who don't have proper shelter.
There are hundreds of people in downtown Columbia who will need a place to go tonight and over the next few nights.
With gusty winds and temperatures dropping below freezing this week, anyone out on Columbia streets overnight faces life-threatening conditions.
The city has already logged one death due to exposure. Over the weekend, authorities located the body of 80-year-old Harold Kenneth James.
James suffered from dementia and needed a walking stick to get around, but at least he was no longer homeless. He'd been living at the Finlay House development in Five Points.
Then, for reasons still unclear, James disappeared last Tuesday. The search for him ended over the weekend when police found his body under the Blossom Street bridge, a place frequented by the city's homeless. Authorities say James might have ended up under the bridge, surrounded by trash and graffiti, because he remembered it from his days on the street.
Columbia's main winter shelter on Calhoun Street has been open at night for more than a month. Capacity there is around 240, and there is an overflow shelter at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park on Greene.
Christ Central Ministries spokesman Larry Johnson says the main winter shelter is already close to capacity. "It's not adequate," he said. "We need more shelter. We need more ways of helping people work their way out of poverty. And their spiritual welfare and education is truly the beginning."
Johnson says some of the people he deals with will actually choose to stay out in the cold, even when there are openings at the main shelter or others scattered around the city. "They're either too crowded or they feel there's not enough organization," said Johnson. "So it's just a lot of people that will, that choose to be out in the elements."
The problem of finding temporary shelter will be eased somewhat by the opening next year of the Midlands Housing Alliance center at Main and Elmwood.