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Homeless community outreach top of mind for advocates, community members as dangerously cold weather moves in

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Posted at 9:25 PM, Dec 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-22 11:05:10-05

DENVER, Colo. — Colleen Wohnoutka was ready for the blast of arctic air. She hit the streets of downtown Denver with bags and a wagon filled with what she calls “kind boxes.”

"They are filled with Hot Hands. I got socks for everybody, hats. I have two hats per item. That way, they can even turn around and give a gift to their friend. And some of them I have gloves,” said Wohnoutka.

Her coworkers pitched in so there was enough funds to make 100 boxes for her to give out. She spent her Wednesday hand-delivering them to people in need.

“They’ve talked about not having anything, being cold, frostbite on their hands, having nowhere to stay. It’s really really said,” she said.

Her teenage daughter helped put together the boxes, something Wohnoutka hopes will become an annual tradition, but also inspire others to help.

Meanwhile, as the temperatures dropped, dozens gathered to remember the 263 people who died this year in Colorado while experiencing homelessness, although the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless believes the exact number is unfortunately higher than they are aware of. Many of those deaths are attributed to exposure.

“Without the service, there's a good chance that no one's gonna memorialize the lives of these individuals, you know, much less the passing,” said Cathy Alderman, public policy officer for the Coalition.

All 263 names were read aloud as attendees braved the same dangerous temperatures some in our community will have to survive Wednesday night.

A lot can go into the difficult decision to stay outside instead of seeking out an official shelter. Advocates say oftentimes you can’t bring all of your belongings inside of a shelter and people don’t want to risk losing them. Some shelters only house specific genders and couples may not want to split up.

“And the last thing is that we have a lot of people with pets, and sometimes they can't take their pets. I think a lot of people can relate to the fact that you wouldn't want to leave your dog in a storm,” said Alderman.

She is encouraging everyone to do their part to help those experiencing homelessness during these extreme conditions.

“If you are out and about and you see somebody outside, please speak with them. Let them know that shelter is available,” said Alderman, “If you have supplies to give them, they've probably had a really rough night. So just use your compassion and your sympathy and make sure that people are safe.”

The coalition said their crews will be out on Thursday and Friday to make sure the people who they contacted before the cold moved in are okay and know what their options are for shelters and other resources.

Below is a map of shelters open across Colorado for this dangerously cold weather: