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Frigid weather sends LI's homeless to shelters

The frigid cold is forcing more of Long Island's homeless to seek shelter from the elements.

Nassau's Warm Bed hotline (866-WARM-BED), for example, has received about double the average number of calls. The usual night sees about a dozen; the past few nights have generated 30 or so calls a night, Connie Lassandro, Nassau's director of housing and homeless services, estimated Sunday.

"I would say it's doubled," she said. "We're getting all kinds of people. People that are not necessarily your chronic homeless. Maybe they were staying with someone and they can't anymore and they don't want to go to the street."

Gregory Blass, Suffolk's commissioner for social services, said he had not seen a surge in the number of people seeking shelter in the last two weeks. Still, he said, comparing the last month and a half to last year, the county has been helping house twice the number of individuals and families.

With temperatures dipping to the teens Sunday night and the lows expected to reach the low 20s the rest of the week, Blass said Suffolk's network of government agencies, volunteers and nonprofits has been on high alert. It's a matter of life and death, he said. "This is dangerous weather," Blass said, "and for the homeless it is a precipice of severe magnitude."

To identify and encourage the unsheltered homeless to come in from the cold, said Karen Garber, a spokeswoman for Nassau's social services, teams go out several times a week, sometimes early in the morning, to locations where the homeless tend to stay.

"It's urgent that we try to bring people in," said Marge Rogatz, president of Community Advocates, a housing and homeless advocacy group in Roslyn Heights.

People who call Nassau's Warm Bed hotline will be given shelter in locations like Hempstead, Freeport and Bellmore, Lassandro said. "In this frigid weather, we really do try to encourage them," she said.

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