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Ann Arbor homeless want warming center to open doors at 40, not 10, degrees

Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio
Homeless and advocates at rally

A group of Ann Arbor homeless people and supporters marched downtown on New Year's Eve, asking the city to change its policy for the Delonis Center on Huron Street.

The warming shelter at the center is open at night -- but during the day, it opens only when it is 10 degrees, including wind chill, or colder.

"At 30 degrees you have a risk of frostbite," says Ryan Sample, "and at 45 (degrees), you have a risk of hypothermia with wet clothes."

Tracy Williams adds, "The Centers for Disease Control says people should be able to get out of the cold if it is 40 degrees or colder. That is what we want."

Unfortunately, it's not in the budget, says Ellen Schulmeister, Executive Director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County.

She says it would cost an additional $200,000 to keep the shelter open most of the winter in daytime hours, and there's just no money for that.

Shulmeister figures the real need is more housing.  Then people would have their own place to go to keep warm.

"The whole secret to shelter is having a back door where we can move people out into housing," says Shulmeister. "And our community has known that for a long time, we've talked about that for a long time, we've talked about rapid re-housing, and permanent supported housing -- because that's really what we need. And until that's addressed, there will always be people who need shelter in the winter months or the summer months or year round for that matter."

Shulmeister says during the course of any one year, about 4,500 people in Ann Arbor experience homelessness.

That number was lower -- about 3,500 -- before the recession.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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