by Scott Satchfield / Eyewitness News
Posted on December 13, 2010 at 10:16 PM
Updated Monday, Dec 13 at 10:16 PM
NEW ORLEANS — It’s a rescue effort in neighborhoods across the city.
When temperatures plunge to dangerous, freezing levels — as expected Monday night — crews from UNITY of Greater New Orleans fan out to find homeless people and bring them to safe, warm shelters.
One of the primary places they check are abandoned buildings, where the homeless often hole up to get away from the elements.
“When it gets this cold, you find whatever option that you have,” said Mike Miller, a UNITY worker.
Miller said the structures protect from wind, but they don’t keep the cold out. That’s why, he said, some people take other, more dangerous measures.
“It’s survival, and this kind of cold is deadly, and people will set fires and try and get a little fire to keep warm,” Miller said.
Whether it’s a small fire for warmth or even a candle for light, it can become a hazardous situation.
“These buildings aren’t safe to have an open flame and they’re not safe to have any kind of flame,” Miller said.
Saturday, a massive, three-alarm fire broke out in an abandoned building on Terpsichore Street in Central City. The fire spread to several nearby buildings, including one occupied home.
Firefighters and witnesses on the scene said the same building caught fire just a few days before and that squatters were seen inside the structure recently.
Officials are still investigating, but with so many blighted buildings across New Orleans, Capt. Edwin Holmes with the New Orleans Fire Department offers a message of caution.
“We want to remind citizens just to be kind of conscious of what’s going on if you do have an abandoned structure next to you. If you know the owner, you might want to contact him to let him know to try to come in, board it up, get it as secure as possible,” he said.
Miller pointed out that a lack of shelter space in the city makes the situation more difficult.
“(Shelters) fill up fast. So, a lot of people’s best option, instead of sleeping on the street, is to find a building,” he said.