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South Sound shelters expanding hours as cold weather continues

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Cold weather is tough on everyone but it’s likely even tougher for those who don’t have a safe place to sleep.

The prolonged cold weather could be dangerous for those sleeping outdoors in the elements.

The weather has been so cold health officials at Thurston County activated a hazardous weather response – expanding shelter options through Wednesday morning.

But part of the problem, say officials, not everyone out in the elements wants to go to a shelter.

Don’t let the blazing sun fool you – temperatures in the South Sound aren’t expected to warm for close to a week.

“I should not be standing here talking to you my friend, I should not have been able to wakeup that morning,” said Bill Doughty, describing a very cold night on the streets. “I was froze to the bone.”

Doughty has been on the streets off and on for six years and when there’s snow on the ground, he looks for other places to stay.

“I stay at my fiancé’s sometimes and if I can’t I stay over here at the mission,” he said.

“We need to be prepared for people who are infirmed or older people,” said Olympia Union Gospel Mission’s Skip Steffen.

Steffen says most people who find their way into shelters will find safety – but for those who don’t want to leave their belongings, the cold weather can be dangerous.

“If somebody’s using drugs or alcohol that’s another risk that they won’t realize how much danger they’re in,” said Steffen.

At the city of Olympia’s sanctioned mitigation site, tent campers can huddle into a community tent heated with propane. The same heaters aren’t allowed inside tents because of the fire danger.

Some campers say they’ll double up on blankets or sleeping bags to keep warm. Plus, outside the sanctioned camp site, other homeless populations can be vulnerable to other circumstances related to cold weather.

“The bigger dangers are, say the tent collapses under the weight of the snow or the wind comes through and a branch comes down or something else,” added Steffen.

The Thurston County health department says it’s looking to extend shelter options at several facilities through the rest of the week as more snow and cold weather is in the forecast.

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