Homeless, animals, flights affected by below-freezing temperatures

Jan. 03, 2014 @ 06:34 PM

Lynn Holloway stepped over crushed Milwaukee’s Best beer cans and iced-over puddles in the woods Friday, pausing among abandoned tents in the afternoon chill.

“Hello?” Holloway called. “Anybody home?”

He and four other Durham Rescue Mission volunteers combed the homeless encampment, with hot coffee, pastries, and invitations to warm shelter in tow.

As the city faced temperatures dropping into the teens Friday night and prepares for a more brutal cold front to arrive early next week, such volunteers hope to offer the homeless an alternative. Animals are brought indoors. Raleigh-Durham International Airport saw about a third of its daily flights delayed or canceled Friday, as the Northeast was slammed in some areas with 18 inches of snow.

This is the second time this winter that the Durham Rescue Mission has searched the woods, checked under overpasses and behind shopping centers. Their last search occurred at the end of November, when fewer than 10 homeless individuals took them up on their offer for a shelter bed.

In the woods along Mt. Moriah Road, a faint “hello” was heard through the trees. A black lab ran at Holloway and stopped about 10 feet from him, barking. A family of three emerged.

“We do have a little heater for the tent,” the woman said, turning down their offer. “We’ll be all right. We got each other.”

Volunteer and mission resident Matthew Ross, who’s court-mandated to stay at the mission for six months to sort his life out after getting arrested for selling crack, said all they can do is try to help. Ross said some people they visit in these tent cities say they’ll stay at the mission, but then never show.

“Everybody’s a grown man and you got to make your own decisions in life,” he said. “I learned that in the mission, too.”

Rob Tart, chief operating officer with the Durham Rescue Mission, said they’ll send out teams who offer warm shelter once the temperature hits 25 degrees.

“And we’re well below that,” Tart said, adding that the hardest part is trying to find the camps in town. “They can move, if you know what I’m saying. They become unwelcome in a certain area and they move somewhere else.”

Many people out and about Friday were keeping warm with hot beverages. By noon, Blue Coffee Café had served a lot of “soup, coffee and hot chocolate,” said Tonika Turner, kitchen manager.

“I think I’ve gone through three or four pots of coffee since we’ve been open,” she said.

Over at Beyu Caffe, hot chocolate was the big seller for the day, said Becky Lindsey, barista at the restaurant.

Elizabeth Drake and Lee Drake were visiting Durham from Miami with their grandchildren Armani and Xavier, who wanted to go north to see some snow. “We want to have fun in the sun,” said Elizabeth Drake, but as they explored Durham Central Park around noon, they were also looking for a place to go get warm and have coffee.

At the nearby skate board park, Josiah Williams was braving the cold, sitting in the sun trying to keep warm after completing a few tricks on his board. He’s been skateboarding about a year, and knows various flips and fakes.

Friday’s stiff wind made performing those tricks a challenge, Williams said.

The National Weather Service’s Raleigh field office is tracking another arctic air mass surging southward from Canada into central North Carolina early next week, with wind chills Monday morning possibly reaching below zero.

Gail Hartfield, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Raleigh, said the last temperature dip into the teens was Nov. 25, when the weather reached 18 degrees in the Raleigh-Durham area.

“This is going to be small potatoes compared to what we’re going to see next Monday night and Tuesday,” Hartfield said.

Over at the Animal Protection Society of Durham, where they’re currently housing about 190 animals, donated blankets and towels from Christmas are being used, and all animals are staying in indoor kennels.

Shelter director Shafonda Davis said to bring animals inside when temperatures reach below freezing.

“If it is too cold for you, it is too cold for your dog and probably too cold for your cat,” Davis said. “...Be mindful. Keep your walks as short as possible. Let them go to the restroom and come back in. Let them enjoy the heat along with you. It’s time to create that portrait of the dog laying by the fire.”

The brunt of the cold weather felt by the Northeast also has created a ripple effect for air travel. Raleigh-Durham International Airport spokesman Andrew Sawyer said that on Friday, 20 flights were canceled and about 45 flights were delayed as of noon, many traveling to Boston, New York or Philadelphia.

RDU airport usually sees about 180 daily departures. Sawyer added that it will take a few days for air travel to get back to normal across the country.

“If you’re not flying to an affected area, your plane may be coming from an affected area, so we really want people to check with their airline,” he said.


Cliff Bellamy contributed to this report.