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It's 41 degrees. The only place to sleep is outside. 'It's unconscionable,' homeless advocate says

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

IT WAS 41 DEGREES at 6 a.m. on Christmas Morning and Josh, a homeless man in Lake Worth Beach, was still wide awake from a sleepless night outside in Bryant Park.

“It’s so cold you can't sleep. It wakes you up,’’ Josh said a few hours later, still shivering under a blanket. “There is no sleep at night. We’re just trying to stay warm. Sleep’s a luxury.’’

“You don’t sleep. You freeze,’’ said another man, who was bundled in blankets.

“It was miserable,’’ said Chad. “It was a broken sleep. Sleep for an hour. Wake up. Turn.’’

“A shelter would have been better,’’ Josh said.

But the only shelter open, under Palm Beach County’s Cold Weather Shelter Program, was 50 miles to the west in Belle Glade, where the temperatures were forecast to drop into the 30s.

The county will consider opening cold-weather shelters when the temperature is forecasted to be 40 degrees or less, with a wind-chill factor of 35 degrees or less, for at least four hours.

Bundled up in line Christmas Eve at Church by the Glades in downtown Lake Worth Beach. (Photo by Randy Sportster Lewis)

Lake Worth Beach came close to meeting the shelter requirements, but not close enough. To many people who were stuck sleeping outside on the nights of Christmas Eve and Christmas, there’s really no difference between 35 degrees or 43 degrees. Cold is cold. Period.

“It sucks being cold,’’ Chad said. “I know that because no matter how many blankets you've got, if it’s windy and it’s cold, it’s cold, right?’’

Randy Sportster Lewis, who runs South Florida Sanctuary, an advocacy and support group for the homeless, said the county should reconsider the low-temperature requirements for opening Cold Weather shelters so homeless people can have access to a warm place to sleep.

“It's unconscionable. It’s inhumane,’’ he said. “You’re out there all night. It's not like running out to your car and heading down the road. You’re stuck all night outside.’’

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Mackey, the department’s Homeless Intervention Deputy, “was kind enough to drop off some blankets a couple days ago,’’ said Lewis, who also runs the Lake Worth Burrito Project, which feeds the homeless.

Food Not Bombs set up a table in Bryant Park and dished out hot meals for the homeless on Christmas Day, as the group does every Sunday (1:30 p.m.) and Thursday (4 p.m.).

The chilly weather prompted the group to bring something else on Dec. 25.

“It’s so cold, so we brought some warm clothing,’’ said volunteer Cindy Phillips.

While the clothes and blankets are greatly appreciated, they offer minimal warmth for folks trying to sleep in alleys, parks and woods, Lewis said.

"They are bundled up,'' he said, "and they are just very cold, very cold.''

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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.

1 Comment

Unknown member
Dec 30, 2022

Maybe the people who make the rules about what the temp should be before providing shelter should have to sleep outside in the same conditions. I bet they would change the temp requirements FAST!

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