Winter wears on homeless and their advocates

    The winter weather has many Delaware Valley residents thinking about staying close to home. But for workers who help Philadelphia’s homeless, the snowstorm means it’s time to kick into high gear.

    The winter weather has many Delaware Valley residents thinking about staying close to home. But for workers who help Philadelphia’s homeless, the snowstorm means it’s time to kick into high gear.

    WHYY’s Elizabeth Fiedler hit the streets with one Project HOME outreach worker.

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    Catch up with Sam Santiago in mid-morning, and he’ll already have been to a bunch of spots across the city where homeless people stay. Santiago’s trying to get people to go to shelters or cafes. He’d like them to come in for good, but if he can’t – especially during nasty winter weather – he’ll settle for a little while.

    Sometimes he’s successful, sometimes he’s not.

    Santiago: “We’re always engaging the guys that are drinkers. When this weather comes, you have to make sure you go check on them because if they drink and black out, they could freeze. Especially with alcohol in the blood system – they think they’re warm and they’re actually not.”

    Behind the wheel of a maroon minivan, Santiago makes his way to the Interstate 95 overpass near Front and Spring Garden Streets.

    He parks, steps through a hole in the fence, then climbs over a guard rail and makes a beeline for a man a few feet away.

    The man, who declines to give his name, is lying in a recliner. He’s covered by a comforter and is snacking from a box of Cheez-Its. He says he’s been living outside for a few years.

    Man: “I got a roof – the expressway! So I’m good. It’s not gonna last forever…I’m cool where i’m at. Long as I’ve got food, water, I’m good.”

    Santiago: “Alright Derek,you’re gonna let me know where we’re gonna do somethin’, right? You don’t need any blankets?”

    Santiago walks back toward the hole in the fence –

    Santiago: “The hardest part about doing this work is like sometimes in a situation like this…is walkin’ away knowin’ that the person needs to be goin’ somewhere and they’re refusing to go in, and you can not force them to go in. You have to walk away because you have to help other people that might wanna come in.”

    Santiago’s been doing outreach work here for more than 10 years, but he says it’s still tough. Last month he found a woman dead in a homeless encampment.

    Santiago: “It’s just shameful that a person dies in a tarp tent underneath 95 by themselves. As much as we try, it just doesn’t happen or it doesn’t happen in time.”

    The snow keeps falling and Santiago keeps working.

    He climbs back in the minivan and heads to check on some people in South Philly.

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