Warming stations open as bitterly cold 'bomb cyclone' approaches

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Shelters and warming stations are opening up as temperatures drop below freezing, posing a significant risk to York County's low-income and unhoused populations. 

“Basically, what we’re trying to do is save lives,” said Eric Chase, president of the Children’s Aid Society, Southern PA District. 

The Children’s Aid Society District, or York C.A.R.E.S. , offers an overflow shelter to single people when the primary shelter at LifePath Christian Ministries is full. But it cannot accept families or children.

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Across the county, resources are stretched thin. That fact is laid bare during cold weather events like this week's anticipated "bomb cyclone," which is expected to bring widespread freezing temperatures across much of the nation, including Pennsylvania.

“Unfortunately, the resources for children and families are very limited in York City at this point," Chase said, adding that his group also coordinates with local churches to meet the need.

Yamily Applewhite, program manager of York’s Covenant House Pennsylvania, said they couldn't take in anyone new as of Tuesday morning. 

“Right now, we’re full,” she said about the shelter, which helps those 21 and under. “We don’t have any space for new intakes, but that changes regularly.”

She added that they aren’t a warming shelter and can’t offer drop-in services, such as laundry, showers and counseling, on the weekend. 

A person sitting in the square on George St. with their belongings in York on Aug.26, 2022.

Applewhite said people should call United Way 211 to find out what shelters are open. 

Chase said a so-called Code Blue is issued when two out of three criteria are met: temperatures below freezing, wind chill below freezing and high-precipitation weather events.

For example, if the temperature is around 28 degrees but feels like it is 11 degrees, a Code Blue will be called. However, for nights like Thursday, when temperatures are expected to be in the 40s but a lot of precipitation is in the forecast, there will not be a Code Blue. LifePath will open its doors this Thursday, but Chase expects the unsheltered are more likely to go check up on their stuff that night.

On nights when it is freezing and heavy precipitation is coming down, Chase said, that qualifies for a Code Blue. Wet clothing and freezing temperatures, he added, are a recipe for hypothermia, or dangerously low body temperature.

“That’s when they can freeze to death,” he said. 

Children's Aid Society Executive Director and CEO Eric Chase, sets out boxes of tea to be given out during National Night Out on North Penn Street in York City, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The shelters and warming stations offer a place to warm up, dry off clothes, put on a fresh pair of socks and have a cup of soup or a hot drink. 

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"As this snap comes in, I’m sure we’ll have even more people coming, looking for space,” Chase said. 

In fact, their shelter went from housing two people to seven Monday night. He said the most they can hold is 28. They cannot open any more shelters because the staff is shorthanded and already working overtime. 

Those looking to help can volunteer to check people into the shelter through York C.A.R.E.S., which is available online at www.cassd.org/yorkcares.html

People partaking in the light up York festivities passing by an unhoused community member in Cherry Lane in York on Dec. 3, 2022.

The York County Coalition on Homeless posts on Facebook about shelters or where to get help. 

Friends & Neighbors Inc., a local group that offers services to the unsheltered, will also be able to tell people where they can go overnight on Code Blue nights. Their outreach hotline number is 717-699-8445. The group also hands out supplies such as sleeping bags and tents to help people during hard nights.

The women’s shelter can be reached at 717-845-5947 and should be called before the 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. check-in. The men’s shelter can be reached at 717-472-8890 before the same check-in period. If they are full, they will direct people to the York C.A.R.E.S. current shelter, Asbury United Methodist Church. Call 717-843-7615 and leave a message. Beds must be scheduled before 8 p.m.  

York C.A.R.E.S. also offers a warming station during the day at Union Lutheran Church. They are open from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. most days. They will be closed Dec. 23 and 26 for the holidays. 

Those who cannot stay at LifePath are still encouraged to call them to find another place to stay.

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Here is the weather outlook for the next few days: 

Tuesday: It will be mostly sunny, with a high near 37. 

Tuesday night: It will be partly cloudy, with a low around 23.  

Wednesday: It will be mostly sunny, with a high near 39. 

Wednesday night: It will turn mostly cloudy, with a low around 28. 

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Thursday: Rain or freezing rain likely before 10 a.m., then rain. High near 47. East wind 5 to 13 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New precipitation amounts between a quarter and half an inch possible.

Thursday night: Rain. Low around 47. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New precipitation amounts between three quarters and one inch possible.

Friday: Rain before 1 p.m. High near 51. Breezy. Chance of precipitation is 90%.

Friday night: Mostly cloudy, with a low around 11. Breezy.

Saturday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 20. Breezy.

Saturday night: Mostly clear, with a low around 9.

Christmas Day: Sunny, with a high near 24.

Sunday night: Mostly clear, with a low around 10.

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.