Cold claims homeless man’s life in Philadelphia

The extreme cold has claimed the life of one Philadelphia homeless man this winter.

The victim was found in Center City Jan. 11, with the cause of death initially ruled an accident. But an autopsy report released last week confirmed the middle-aged man died of hypothermia.

The man was known by the city to be chronically homeless, one of a hundred in Philadelphia, according to Marie Nahikian, director of the city’s Office of Supportive Housing.

Nahikian said a Code Blue — the city mandate to make contact with the homeless in temperatures below 20 degrees — had been in effect that night. She didn’t know whether he had been in contact with any outreach program that evening, but she said he hadn’t visited a shelter since 2006.

“It’s traumatic for the people who work with the homeless every day,” said Nahikian. “We have an internal process where we try to figure out exactly what the history of contact and engagement was, but I think it causes people to redouble their efforts.”

It was the first homeless death due to weather in several years, according to Nahikian. The city has a mandate to force people off the street in cold weather, but that measure isn’t always taken.

“Many times the people you see on the street have received assistance,” said Nahikian. “In some cases, they’re people who have housing, but they come back to the street every day, that’s their sense of community, and it’s tough when people have multiple issues going on.”

“Sometimes people have to be engaged hundreds of times before they will agree, yes, I’ll come,” said Nahikian.

On Monday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the number of Code Blue warnings this year have actually been lower than in previous years.

But Nahikian pointed out that Code Blues are called when temperatures drop below 20 degrees, so just because there have been fewer this year doesn’t mean it isn’t a worse winter.

“I think what makes this year worse than in past years is that is has been so unusually frigid,” said Nahikian. “You don’t normally get 7 or 8 degrees and minus-zero-degree wind chills, so that makes it more serious.”

Nahikian expected another round of Code Blue warnings to last through the week.

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