Two freeze to death on city streets during recent cold snap

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wwltv.com

Posted on January 9, 2014 at 7:10 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 9 at 7:21 PM

Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

NEW ORLEANS - Two people died this week from the extreme cold weather. The cause of death, hypothermia. Both the man and the woman were homeless and the problem could get worse.

Homeless people under the interstate downtown knew the details, and locations of those who died in the cold. A homeless man named Kenneth, 54, stayed in a tent one night and at the New Orleans Mission another.

People from the New Orleans Mission say they conduct sweeps on cold nights to bring some of the homeless people in from the cold, but they say some are extremely hard to convince to get out of their tents and come inside.

"That could be a condition of their illness," said Sarah Hoffpauir, a licensed social worker and psychotherapist for counseling and psychosocial services (CAPS) for Tulane University Student Affairs.

"If they are suffering from paranoia due to schizophrenia, or if they have bi polar disorder and have been treated poorly by others, they may be very distrustful of strangers and they find that it's safer to be alone.

The homeless who are chronically mentally ill, have very high rates of violent crime against them. They suffer rapes on the streets. They suffer battery and they develop a fear of strangers."

Nearly a third of the homeless have untreated mental illness. Half of the homeless have the illness of addiction and 45 percent of homeless veterans are mentally ill according to SAMHSA.

One homeless man named Kenneth, fit that profile.

"I'm diagnosed with schizophrenia. I'm a schizophrenic person," he said.

"New Orleans has a shortage of housing that is suitable for the chronic mentally ill," said Hoffpauir.

That's the Catch-22. Research shows assertive community treatment is highly effective, bringing recovery to the chronic mentally ill. But to qualify for one of these programs at no cost to the patient, they have to have a home. And without one, all it takes is one cold night.

"It doesn't have to be below freezing for people to get hypothermia. It can be 40 degrees, especially if it's wet," explained Tulane Family Medicine Dr. Pamela Wiseman, who treats patients at the Daughters of Charity Health Centers. "Your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat when you become hypothermic, and so you know, the average (body) temperature is 98.6. If you get down to 95 (degrees) it's an emergency, a medical emergency."

The Metropolitan Human Services District in your parish can help you get in touch with an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team.

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