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Freezing cold threatens St. Louis' most at-risk population

Advocates are calling for more shelters and fewer COVID-19 restrictions during a stretch of extreme cold

ST. LOUIS — Extreme cold can be extremely dangerous. Frostbite can happen in minutes and the process of hypothermia is sped up significantly when temperatures drop below zero. Time outdoors should be limited, but some in St. Louis are left struggling to find a place to go. 

"The truth is any temperature below 20 degrees is an area of concern," Tim Huffman told 5 On Your Side. Huffman is an associate professor at Saint Louis University. This semester he is teaching Organizing Homeless Human Services. 

Huffman and his students want to find a solution for St. Louis' homeless in cold weather.

"This winter is particularly challenging because we can't just expand the bed counts at the existing operations," he explained.

COVID-19 concerns are keeping indoor capacities limited, additional churches closed and preventing some volunteers from working. 

There are options within St. Louis. The city runs a warming bus downtown, which gives people a place to warm up and can transport them to shelters. 

Through partnerships, the city has been able to open more shelter beds, but professor Huffman said they still need more.

"I still think we're about 10-30 short," he said.

His students started two websites to manage donations and volunteers. Donations would help their efforts expand into hotels and rentals. 

Click here for information on how to donate or volunteer.

Huffman said there will still be some people who choose to stay outside, but volunteers, like him, will know where to find them.

"We'll know every one of their names and we'll pile them high with blankets."