City organizations providing aid to homeless individuals during dangerous cold spell

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Sub-zero weather can spell danger for homeless individuals, so what’ s being done to protect the most vulnerable among us?

Temperatures below zero make it possible for one to develop hypothermia and frostbite in short periods of time, leaving the homeless community particularly susceptible. In response, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and Rapid City Police Department have increased patrols to find and help individuals in need.

“As we all know, the last eight to 10 months, things have been challenging as far as spacing, and social distancing and all that, but right now the number one priority for us is to get people in, out of this weather that don’t have appropriate housing or clothing, and get them in where it’s warm,” said Chief Deputy of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, Willie Whelchel. 

The Care Campus increased beds during the pandemic, but has not been full this week. 

“Normally when we have very inclement weather or snow storms that move in,” said Whelchel. “What we find within our facilities, we actually see less folks. They find a place to hunker down, so to speak, to get in out of the weather. They plan for it, ahead of time.”

Fortunately, Whelchel says there have been no cold weather related deaths or injuries, but he does encourage residents to call the Sheriff’s Office or Police Department if they see individuals in need of shelter and/or aid. Along with the Care Campus, other shelters are also continuing to provide aid, even if methods have changed. The Hope Center, has been forced to scale back during the pandemic. In typical times, it is a day shelter for anyone, but now allows only 10-12 individuals in at a time, and only for brief periods of time. Serving between 200 and 240 individuals daily, the center has gotten creative.

“We are still going to the park on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and serving lunch at 1 p.m., so people can have access to a hot meal,” said executive director, Melanie Timm. “And we take cold weather gear.”

The presidential statues are also a reminder of the homeless situation in the city, and an opportunity for residents to get involved in helping, although Mayor Steve Allender says it is not meant to be the primary means of providing warm clothing. 

“Placing a cap or a scarf, or jackets or mittens on these very popular presidential statues gets that attention, and I hope keeps that homeless situation on the front of everyone’s mind,” said Allender.

Frigid temperatures will be affecting more than just Rapid City, and Oglala Sioux Tribe president, Kevin Killer released the following statement;

“Due to the extreme cold weather in the next few days, we are providing resources for tribal members living on the reservation. We are encouraging a proactive approach to prepare for the freezing temperatures we are experiencing. We do not want any deaths during this period.”

Please contact the following programs for assistance:

Oglala Sioux Tribe Energy Office – 605-867-5169

Emergency Management Program – 605-867-5011

Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing Authority – 605-867-5161

Categories: Coronavirus, Local News, South Dakota News