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Homeless shelters prepare for bitter weekend cold

Jaime Cordoba rested in a common area at the Pine Street Inn in Boston on Thursday.
Jaime Cordoba rested in a common area at the Pine Street Inn in Boston on Thursday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

With bitter cold forecast for the weekend, Pine Street Inn announced plans Thursday to continue operating above its capacity and increase the availability of teams that canvass the city and bring homeless residents indoors.

“We’ve had a relatively mild winter, but we’re coming up to the coldest part,” said Lyndia Downie, Pine Street’s executive director. “We have to try to be very creative.”

Pine Street, one of Boston’s largest shelters, will have 24-hour emergency response teams reaching out to the homeless to offer them shelter from the extreme conditions, and will coordinate with other regional shelters to ensure people have a place to go.

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Downie also urged the public to be vigilant in looking out for those in need and asked residents to call 911 if they see anyone in need of immediate shelter. Generally, police and emergency medical teams can respond quicker than the shelters, Downie said.

“We try to be very creative,” Downie said from the shelter’s headquarters on Harrison Avenue in the South End. “We will find room for someone, somewhere in the city. We will get people on a mat or a cot.”

Pine Street typically has almost 400 beds reserved for men and 120 beds for women. The shelter is currently well above capacity, with 80 to 110 men and about 15 women sleeping on the floor, Downie said.

Since the 2014 closing of Long Island, the city’s largest homeless shelter, Downie said Pine Street has been under pressure to take in more people.

While the winter has been relatively mild so far, the arrival of bitter cold this weekend will only increase demand for space.

On Saturday night, the lows are expected to be around zero in the Boston area, with a wind chill of minus 20. Lows Sunday night should be in the single digits, forecasters say.

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Wind chills that cold can bring on frostbite in as little as 10 minutes, the National Weather Service warned in an advisory.

“Outdoor exposure should be limited in these conditions,” the advisory said.

Downie said homelessness in Boston has increased in recent years because of the high cost of rental housing, the growing opioid epidemic, and the constant strains on the mental health system.

Bradford Stephens said he has been at the Pine Street Inn for about two months and appreciates the shelter’s efforts to take in more people.
Bradford Stephens said he has been at the Pine Street Inn for about two months and appreciates the shelter’s efforts to take in more people. The Boston Globe

Bradford Stephens, a 60-year-old man from Clinton, said he came to Pine Street after the death of his wife about three years ago sent him into a deep depression. Stephens fell behind on his mortgage, lost his home to foreclosure, and soon found himself homeless, he said.

Living at a shelter has been a tough transition for Stephens, a former corporate risk management adviser. But as the brunt of winter nears, Stephens said he is grateful.

“You have to make the best of a bad situation,” said Stephens, who has been at the shelter for about two months.

Wayne Smith came to the shelter about six months ago when he relapsed after three years free of drugs and alcohol.

In plain terms, Smith said he would be dead if it weren’t for Pine Street.

“Alcohol and drug addiction is very conniving and insidious,” he said. “This is a wake-up call for me. As rough as this place seems sometimes, it’s a godsend.”

Downie said Pine Street tries to meet people where they are, regardless of their situation or past. Last winter, the shelter’s street teams came across a man who refused to enter the facility and instead preferred to sleep under a tractor-trailer. Teams visited him every night to make surehe survived the cold and biting snow, Downie said.

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Seneca Rainey, another resident at Pine Street, said this dedication is what makes the shelter special. Rainey, of Jamaica Plain, has been without permanent housing for more than a year but is more determined than ever to change his situation.

“I’m taking the steps. I’m a grown man and 39 years old,” he said. “There’s no excuses anymore.”


Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.