Cold weather poses serious health risks for elderly, homeless, children

Wheeler Mission sees record numbers

INDIANAPOLIS - With wind chills were well below zero Tuesday morning, safety is an issue for many people, including the elderly, children, people who work outdoors and the homeless.

"You just keep going and get the blood flowing," said Dan Kitch, a restaurant bicycle deliverer who spent eight hours on his bike Monday. "It's not bad. When you get into the wind, it's pretty unbearable."

Doctors say it only takes 5 minutes for exposed skin to freeze in the type of cold that's predicted for Tuesday, and frostbite can cause permanent damage.

Hypothermia -- where the body loses heat faster than it can be produced -- can be deadly, especially for the elderly.

"It's the folks at the extreme of age that really can't tell you what's going on and if they're outside for long periods of time, their body temperature can drop," said Dr. John Finnell, who works in the ER at Wishard Memorial Hospital.

That's a real threat for people with outdoor jobs and aren't prepared.

"I make sure that I cover myself and if I start getting real cold, I go inside and warm up," said construction worker Bill Lockhart.

With the forecast for temperatures in the teens and single digits through Tuesday, a brief but powerful blast of cold air can make the hardest outdoor work dangerous.

Also, leaving a child or pet alone in a cold car can be disastrous. Last year, 31 children died nationwide from hypothermia because they were left alone in an unheated car.

The Wheeler Mission homeless shelters on Delaware Street and Market Street are housing more people Monday than they ever have.

Staff at the shelter estimated Monday's numbers

The shelter on Market provides a warm place for the homeless to lay their heads. In this building there are 124 permanent beds, but with Monday's crowd, not everyone will get one.

"We'll probably have another 100, 150 men on the floor between here and our building over on Delaware Street," said Steve Kerr, with Wheeler Mission.

In extreme weather -- such as snowy conditions and dangerously cold temps -- outreach groups visit areas where the homeless are known to stay, urging them to seek shelter. Still, RTV6 found a few in tents, braving the cold.

Don Young has been living at Wheeler for a couple of months -- he said he knows being on the street in the bitter cold is risking your life.

"I had to just run an errand today, and during the day it was brutal. I would not want to have to spend the night out there," Young said.

The record number of people at the shelter is a strain on the budget. 

Wheeler Mission can use donations and volunteers, but they said no matter what, they will take care of everyone who comes through the door.

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