COVID-19, ice storms leave homeless scrambling for scarce overnight shelter
The Oklahoma City metro area awoke Wednesday to a third wave of ice storms and an increasing number of households without power even as crews raced to restore outages from the previous two days.
Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. reported 253,000 customers out of power Wednesday morning, a jump from 226,000 without power Tuesday night as the company struggled to keep up with the second worst ice storm in the company's history. Spokesman Brian Alford reported crews have restored power to more than 100,000 customers.
Crews from Texas, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana and Indiana joined with OG&E crews in repairing lines throughout the night. Full restoration of power could last days.
“As we continue to restore power, outage numbers may increase with today’s precipitation and as ice melts,” Alford said. “Once the system has completely passed, we can compete damage assessment and have a clearer picture of how long restoration.”
Statewide, poweroutage.us reported more than 372,000 outages.
The National Weather Service cautioned rising temperatures won’t be the end of the danger posed by the three-day ice storm. Northwest wind gusts of up to 30 mph were forecast Wednesday night and into Thursday as the front moves through, and any ice still on trees and power lines is expected to cause more damage.
With cold temperatures and freezing rain continuing Wednesday, advocates for the homeless issued a dire warning that if “something isn’t done, people will die.”
Homeless Alliance executive director Dan Straughan, city officials, shelter directors and service providers have worked since July to develop a strategy to aid those experiencing homelessness in the cold because pandemic safety conditions have cut 300 shelter beds out of the equation.
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That shortage is being cited as the city opened the Cox Convention Center for daytime shelter, but not for overnight stays.
Normally, 900 overnight beds exist throughout shelters in Oklahoma City, Straughan said. That number is closer to 600 due to COVID-19. The decrease in beds directly impacts unsheltered homeless individuals who must rely on tents, cars or sidewalks as a bed.
The alliance’s day shelter, for the first time ever, opened overnight to help meet the need for more emergency beds.
“All the shelters in Oklahoma City have reduced regular capacity to allow for social distancing,” Straughan said. “A lot of the work we do every day can legitimately be called lifesaving. Opening the day shelter to overnight guests on freezing nights could be the most concrete, immediate example of what we’re being called to do.”