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'It is going to be life or death' | Extreme cold brings deadly consequences for people experiencing homelessness

Newly opened Safe Outdoor Spaces in Denver give people a place to get access to services and a warmer spot to sleep.

DENVER — Spending more than a couple of minutes outside this weekend will be painful. Living out here could be deadly.

Whenever the temperature drops this low, it can become a life or death situation for people experiencing homelessness. On a day like Saturday, the coldest of the cold, Dr. Kathleen Van Voorhis thinks of those who will spend it outdoors.

"I start thinking about how many people we are going to lose. These are temperatures that kill people. These are temperatures that are absolutely deadly and detrimental to people’s wellbeing," said Dr. Van Voorhis, the Director of Housing Justice with Interfaith Alliance. "My hope is that we are going to make it through the weekend with a minimal death count."

Interfaith Alliance, along with Colorado Village Collaborative, recently opened Safe Outdoor Spaces for people experiencing homelessness to have a place in the city to safely camp and have access to services. Dozens of ice fishing tents serve as makeshift homes. 

The Safe Outdoor Spaces have been up and running for several months now. This weekend, they’ll face their biggest test from mother nature.

"These tents have floor heaters, they have heated blankets, we have lots of different ways to keep people warm inside those tents," said Dr. Van Voorhis. 

In a space that offers healthcare, hygiene and food, its most important service will be a warmer place to sleep this weekend. Dr. Van Voorhis knows more than a dozen in the homeless community who have recently died in cold weather.

She fears what this weekend could bring.

"I know that we have over 13 that I have accounted for in more rural areas of Colorado, just in the last six months," said Dr. Van Voorhis. "We are seeing a higher rate of hypothermia, frostbite, and even of death around the state of Colorado."

There are currently two Safe Outdoor Spaces operating in Denver. The organizations that run the operations say they hope to open a third later this year.

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