Houston police racing to convince city's homeless to come in from brutal cold

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The cold may be deadly, but some of Houston's homeless said they aren't leaving for shelter. (KTRK)

After two suspected cold-related deaths, there's even more urgency to get homeless residents into shelters, but many still don't want to go.

The Houston Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team heads out into homeless camps daily. Officers hand out blankets and make sure the communities know shelters are open and available as the temperatures drop.

No matter how cold it gets, some people won't budge, Officer Gerardo Alaniz said.

"You've got all kinds of reasons. Everybody has a unique situation," he said.

His partner, Officer Nick Vogelsang, agreed saying many homeless people have no interest in a group shelter.

"Some don't like the rules. Some just prefer it outside," Vogelsang said.

Many of those remaining outdoors in extreme temperatures may also be suffering from mental illness or addiction.

But even if they refuse help, sometimes officers still have to intervene by calling an ambulance if there's an apparent medical emergency.

"They may deny that they're ... in danger, but ... we see they're getting some type of hypothermia. If we see those signs, it's best to not take any chances," Alaniz said.

Dr. Hortencia Luna with River Oaks Emergency Room explains many people don't realize the cold can become deadly fast. Hypothermia usually starts with shivering, slurred speech and confusion. Frostbite is also a risk.

"You can end up losing your toes, losing your fingers, losing the tip of your nose, losing the cartilage on your ears. It's very sensitive to low temperatures," Luna said

The outreach team hopes to prevent that by building trust with homeless Houstonians so they'll know where to turn when they need help.

"Some people don't know they need help until it's too late. That's why we try to go out here and be as proactive as we can," Vogelsang said.

The team asks residents to help spread the word that shelters and warming centers are available.

If you know a homeless person who may need assistance, you can reach out to the HPD Homeless Outreach by emailing details to hpd.hot@houstonpolice.org

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