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Bitter cold settled into region

Bitter cold settled into region

Already packed shelters across the Capital Region may see a rush of people as a three-day blast of a

Already packed shelters across the Capital Region may see a rush of people as a three-day blast of arctic weather settles in.

The National Weather Service in Albany is forecasting temperatures as low as 10 degrees below zero in most areas throughout the region tonight. With the wind chill added, outdoor temperatures will feel as low as 20 below zero.

“Outlying areas could even be colder than that,” said Brian Frugis, a meteorologist with the weather service. “We could see temperatures of 20 to 30 degrees below zero in Fulton County and northward.”

This week’s anticipated cold snap is likely to beat the coldest day recorded in 2008, when temperatures plunged to 5 below zero in early January. And they’re not expected to warm up soon.

Frugis said the cold spell will abate somewhat after tonight’s lows. However, temperatures aren’t expected to rise above the low teens until next week.

The cold spell is already forcing many of the region’s needy to seek refuge. In Schenectady, officials from both the City Mission and Bethesda House indicated that they were already contending with a rush of requests.

All of the beds at the City Mission were filled late Wednesday, and staffers at the shelter were laying out mats in every available space. Executive Director Mike Saccocio said he wouldn’t turn anyone away.

Single-digit and sub-zero temperatures can quickly turn deadly for the region’s homeless population.

Last January, 56-year-old Bill Pearce was found dead in a derelict State Street building the day after temperatures hit 8 degrees. Pearce, who many described as alcoholic and chronically homeless, did not seek refuge at a shelter.

“When it’s like this, it’s really a matter of life and death,” Saccocio said.

Services provided at Bethesda House were bustling all day Wednesday, as those in need braced for the cold. Executive Director Margaret Anderton said the steady rise in people relying on the center spiked.

“We were absolutely mobbed today with the cold weather,” she said “The requests for blankets, coats and gloves has just been tremendous.”

Like the City Mission, Bethesda House is out of space to shelter any more than the 10 families already under its care through the Lighthouse program. Anderton said even finding motel space for people in need has been difficult in the depressed economy.

“We’ve been putting people in motels as far away as Colonie and Latham,” she said.

EMERGENCY PLANS

Emergency management officials in the town of Saratoga decided to open a warming area in the old Schuylerville school building on Route 29 in Schuylerville. People seeking refuge from the cold can stay temporarily at the assembly hall while temperatures remain at or below zero.

“We were concerned,” town Emergency Manager Jim Miers said. “Heaven forbid if someone runs out of heating oil.”

Miers said staging the warming area will also serve as a “baptism by fire” for the town’s comprehensive emergency plan, which was recently rewritten. He said the area may be kept open for overnight stays, depending on the demand of people seeking refuge.

“We’re fielding a lot of calls right now,” he said.

In Saratoga Springs, the anticipated cold snap hasn’t affected the number of people seeking assistance. All 18 beds at Shelters of Saratoga remained filled Wednesday, as they’ve been all winter.

“We always have a lot of people looking for shelter,” Executive Director Nancy Lamb said. “We’re always full.”

Lamb said those who can’t be housed at the shelter are referred to the county’s Department of Social Services. Those who qualify for emergency housing assistance are then put up in area motels.

The Salvation Army in Montgomery County provides a similar service for those seeking assistance in the city of Amsterdam as well as in the villages of Canajoharie and Fort Plain, explained Captain Caroline Ramos. Because there are no shelters in the county, she said the Salvation Army often acts as a referral agency.

Ramos said there hasn’t been a spike in people seeking assistance so far this winter. She said many of the people who needed assistance planned in advance of the cold.

“This year, people are more aware of the agencies helping with heat,” she said.

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