By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A “code blue” has been declared in our area because of the brutal weather on the horizon, and outreach workers are hitting the streets, trying to convince hundreds of chronically homeless men and women living around Philadelphia to come inside.

Today, we rode with a team as they searched hidden campsites in center city.  They looked beneath bridges and alongside railroad tracks for hidden huts and makeshift camps where the chronically homeless live, out of sight.

“We make sure that nobody dies out here, because that could happen very easily,” notes Sam Santiago, an outreach response worker with Project Home.

 

(Sam Santiago, of Project HOME, scouting homeless areas for people in danger.  Photo by Cherri Gregg)

(Sam Santiago, of Project HOME, scouting homeless areas for people in danger. Photo by Cherri Gregg)

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Santiago says he uses tips from the Homeless Hotline, as well as his knowledge of those living on the streets, to help guide his daily search.

“It’s all about relationships,” he says, noting that outreach teams work 24 hours a day and have relationships with the men and women who live on the streets, many preferring not to take shelter inside.  And he says some are more at risk than others.

“You have to know that the guy that’s sleeping out in the open is more in danger of something happening than somebody who’s got layers of clothes and blankets,” he explains.

Santiago adds that he has been forced to involuntarily commit some especially stubborn individuals on especially cold days, acknowledging that it could strain some of the relationships he has built.

“Sometimes you don’t have a choice,” he says.  “If they don’t have on layers and they are sleeping on top of a heated grate and freezing weather is coming, that is a bad combination.”

“I’ve survived 10 degrees below zero, under three blankets,” notes a man calling himself Mister Thomas, whom Santiago found living underneath Interstate 676.   Mr. Thomas says he’s lived on the streets for 21 years because the streets are safer than shelters.  “There’s always some type of fighting in the shelter — I can fight with the walls out here.”

But Santiago convinced him to come inside this time.

If you see someone who is homeless during a “code blue” weather emergency, call the Philadelphia Homeless Hotline at 215-232-1984.