Snowstorms give Seattle new opportunities to confront homelessness

    Snowstorms give Seattle new opportunities to confront homelessness (PHOTO: KOMO News)

    SEATTLE — Some unexpected fallout came from February’s snowstorms, as city officials found new ways to make inroads into the homeless crisis.

    Homeless people who had never wanted help before started asking for it, and newly opened shelters offered opportunities for what could be lasting connections.

    “I'm a pretty hardy person but once it hits 31 degrees, it gets to be extremely tough,” said Rico Green, who came to the Exhibition Hall at the Seattle Center, one of the temporary shelters opened up around the city during these storms.

    Campers who pushed away help in the past were coming up to outreach workers and asking to get off the streets, just so they could survive the bitter cold.

    “It frightened me. That's why I'm here. I don't normally go to a shelter,” said Gino Minetti, who said he usually lives out of his van.

    The city’s navigation team worked 18-hour shifts to pull people in from life-threatening conditions. As people waited out the storms in the shelters, case workers seized the opportunity to make first-time connections.

    Hundreds of homeless people have agreed to options that put them on the path to permanent housing, city officials said.

    The navigation team reached out to 715 campers during the storms and 162 of them agreed to be transported immediately to a waiting shelter space. An additional 550 shelter spaces have been created since the storms began, increasing capacity by 25 percent citywide.

    Hats, gloves, socks and food were given to people who still chose to stay outdoors.

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