It was 12 degrees when Nashville Fire Department Capt. Gary Standley drove the white van out of the headquarters on Hermitage Avenue at 6 p.m. Wednesday to start the last of the city's patrols for unsheltered homeless.
Standley and emergency medical technician David Upton hoped to convince anyone considering sleeping outside to think otherwise on a night when temperatures where projected to fall to 8 degrees, with wind chills as cold as 10 below zero.
All the city's cold weather response teams were on high alert. It was Nashville's coldest night since the same day last year, when arctic air lowered the temperature to 2.
"There has been a lot of advance warning," Upton said. "There could be one person out here or there could be 50. Some people wait until the last minute."
Daniel Shoemaker, 2, eats a hot meal provided by Catholic Charities, which is serving the homeless during cold weather. Daniel, his mother Amanda and sister Theresa are living at the Nashville Rescue Mission. (Photo: John Partipilo / The Tennessean)
Around 7 p.m., the van eased to the curb on Church Street near Printer's Alley. James Bowman was huddled against a wall trying to light a cigarette. Upton asked if he needed a lift, and Bowman, 33, said little but agreed to get in the van.
A bit disoriented, Bowman realized only at the Nashville Rescue Mission where he had been taken. He was dropped off at the door, but as Standley and Upton drove away, the young man with a backpack and a skateboard could be seen leaving the mission, headed back out into the cold night.
"We just hope he goes back there before morning," Upton said, concerned about air cold enough to cause frostbite and hypothermia to anyone not dressed for the weather.
Standley and Upton's patrol, expected to last until 6 a.m., was among the last of various searches conducted by city workers and non-profits.
A group from the rescue mission left around noon to begin the day's sweeps after earlier drives to find where homeless groups were staying. Jeff Lucas, assistant director of guest services for the mission, started checking the common hiding spots at 9 a.m. Around noon, he was rambling through the cold streets with chaplains Rob Frazier and Ken Engel, past hidden tent cities.
Lucas said he expected most people he ran into would turn him down for a ride to the mission or another shelter, but anticipated more people would agree to go with the cold patrols as the day wore on and temperatures dropped.
"They don't care right now. It's daylight and it's decently warm to them," Lucas said. "As long as we get them off the streets, on a night like this, that's the main objective."
A record number of 1,426 beds, or more accurately mattresses, were reportedly available to shelter homeless people across the city Wednesday.
"This is more than we have ever had," said Rachel Hester, director of Room In The Inn, which has been working with the Homelessness Commission and other homeless agencies, as well as the mayor's office, the Metro Police department and Office of Emergency Management, to be ready for the bitterly cold nights forecast this week.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Sam Herron said he expected temperatures to drop to 6 Thursday morning in Nashville, closer to 0 in the suburbs and farther North of the city.
By rush hour Thursday morning, temperatures were expected to remain in the single digits, but with a much lighter wind chill. Herron estimated the high to reach the mid 20s Thursday afternoon, but expected the winds to pick up and make much of the day feel like the temperatures were in the mid teens.Wind chill health risks
The Nashville Fire Department and the Metro Nashville Office of Emergency Management share the following cold weather tips:
• Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees; resulting in shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech or drowsiness.
• Frostbite occurs by similar exposure to cold and results in a white or grayish-yellow skin area. Skin feels unusually firm or waxy and numb.
• Those suffering from either should seek warm shelter and medical attention immediately. Victims should have wet clothes removed and should be slowly warmed up in a blanket and with warm fluids. Frostbite should be treated with warm - not hot - water.
• Limit any time spent outdoors. If outside trips are necessary, wear multiple layers covering as much skin as possible with hats, scarves and gloves or mittens.
Room In The Inn update
Thirty-one congregations offered shelter and food and provided 381 homeless beds through the Room In The Inn program Wednesday night. That compares to 15 congregations and about 180 beds on an ordinary winter Wednesday night.
Other beds were provided by the Nashville Rescue Mission, the emergency bed program at the Campus for Human Development, Oasis Center, Woodbine Shelter and Sacred Sparks in Brentwood.
Thursday night's capacity is at 1,200 beds, with a need for 100-200 more.
Contact Jordan Buie at 615-726-5970 and Holly Meyer at 615-259-8241.