Catholic agencies in the US have been struggling to keep vulnerable people warm as a spate of brutally cold weather envelops the eastern two-thirds of the country.
Temperatures plunged to -15C in some places. From Montana to Florida and Texas to Maine homeless shelters opened additional hours to shield people from frosty Arctic winds, which have been described as a temperature anomaly in the region.
“It literally cuts through you,” Michael Acaldo, executive director of the Council of the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Baton Rouge, Louisiana said.
Temperatures in southeastern Louisiana forced dozens of people into three emergency shelters the council operates, Acaldo said. During the cold snap, about 120 men, women and children have been at the shelters. A normal night would see 80 people.
“We’re making the best of it. Everybody’s trying to stay warm,” he said.
Farther north in the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, staff members at Jericho Way, a homeless day resource centre operated by the Catholic non-profit Depaul USA, has seen an increase in clients at their doors.
Director Mandy Davis said they have opened earlier and stayed open later to accommodate those in need. Churches and temporary warming shelters have opened for people needing a place to stay as well, she said.
In the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, the shelters have been filled for much of December as cold weather settled in early, said Pam Terrell, division director of community services for the diocese’s Catholic Charities program.
The agency has established cold shelter nights, allowing more than the usual 80 people to seek warmth during any given evening.
“Both of our shelters serve as warming centers during inclement weather,” Ms Terrell said. “And both have 24-hour call numbers for those who may be searching for cold shelter. So we go over census and take anybody in.”