Extreme cold raises concerns, calls of help for homeless

Grand Rapids, police, homeless, cold weather
Body camera footage shows Grand Rapids police officers reaching out to the homeless when the weather turns bitterly cold. (Dec. 7, 2016)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids police and firefighters are asking holiday revelers to keep an eye out for people struggling with the extreme cold that continues to grip the area.

“It is a true weather emergency out there,” said Grand Rapids Fire Department Lt. William Smith.

It’s an emergency that could lead to serious injury or death for people who cannot find a roof and four walls to escape from the elements.

“We find a lot of the homeless kind of hole up in anything that affords shelter, and that shelter really doesn’t give anything expect a wind break,” explained Smith.

Shelters have added extra space and relaxed some of the rules allowing people in so one one’s left out.

Still, the GRFD says reports of people showing signs of frostbite and hypothermia are up.

Since temperatures plunged, Grand Rapids police have been visiting areas where homeless people normally congregate, checking on their condition and getting them into shelters.

“Police have been doing an outstanding job of looking for individuals in time of need,” said Smith.

Now they’re asking for your help.

Knowing many people celebrating the year’s end will be visiting areas where the homeless frequent this weekend, the GRFD and Grand Rapids Police Department are asking the public to be vigilant and report anyone who may be struggling with the cold.

“Often we find the homeless in concealed spaces that are hard to see from the road. So we’re asking the citizens, if you see something, you hear something, say something,” said Smith.

“There are a lot of alleys in the areas between Commerce and Ionia… (and) the Heartside District here has a lot of places,” he added.

As hypothermia sets in, a victim’s ability to move and even communicate becomes more difficult. And time can be critical.

“Go up to the individual if you feel safe (and) confident. Ask them if they need any help,” said Smith. “If they don’t respond to you, contact 911.”

Mel Trotter ministries usually sees about 275 people, but expects to see the number rise to as many as 450 during this cold snap.