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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Frigid stretch draws Spokane’s unhoused population indoors: ‘I’m done with the cold’

By Amanda Sullender and Garrett Cabeza The Spokesman-Review

Bobbi Ebel was warming up Friday afternoon in the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza before making the trek to the Trent homeless shelter with her dog, Syntax. Having been homeless for four years, Ebel is more concerned for her dog in the freezing cold than herself.

“My dog is more important than my belongings. More important than me,” she said.

Multiple homeless people have moved from the dangerously cold Spokane streets to warming shelters amid the frigid stretch that has brought temperatures below zero.

Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday because of the extreme weather.

Shelter capacity will expand by at least 183 beds to provide space for homeless people to get out of the cold through the city-run shelter on Trent Avenue, other facilities and at least two churches. STA will provide free rides to anyone who indicates they are traveling to a shelter while temperatures are freezing.

Spokane Fire Lt. Mike Walker said the department has received a few weather-related medical calls and expected more this weekend. He said fire personnel have been dispatched to various calls at shelters because of the influx of people.

A spokesperson at Multicare Deaconess Hospital and Rockwood Clinics said there has been no notable uptick in patients from the cold weather. At Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, a spokesperson said there was no data available on cold-related illnesses in its emergency department.

Meanwhile, Ebel said she hoped to get her dog medical care.

The dog’s coat had been stolen overnight and a car had hit the dog in the morning traffic. Though the dog appeared unhurt aside from a bloodshot eye, Ebel hoped to take Syntax to Trent, where veterinary care is sometimes available. They hoped to stay their through the weekend’s subzero temperatures.

“I’m done with the streets. I’m done with the cold,” she said.

The National Weather Service in Spokane issued a wind chill warning in effect until noon Sunday for North Idaho and Eastern Washington. Wind chills are expected to be between 15 and 35 below zero through Saturday, and between 10 and 30 below zero through Sunday morning.

Friday marked the first bitter cold day of the frigid stretch, with temperatures staying roughly between 0 and 3 degrees during the day at the Spokane International Airport and falling below zero Friday night, said Laurie Nisbet, meteorologist at the weather service.

In other parts of the region Friday morning, Bonners Ferry’s temperature dropped to minus-13, Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint were minus-8 and Pullman was minus-4.

The Spokane International Airport was expected to drop to minus-11 overnight and warm up to a high of 2 on Saturday.

No records were broken Friday in the region, Nisbet said, but Saturday’s low temperature could flirt with Spokane’s record low for Jan. 13 of minus-13.

On Sunday, Nisbet said Spokane’s temperature could drop to 3 below zero with cloud cover. It could be colder if the clouds are thin or nonexistent. The high temperature Sunday at the airport is expected to be 8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Temperatures will slowly warm up, or at least out of the below-zero range, starting Monday.

“We’re going to stay cold,” Nisbet said. “It’s not going to go right back up to average by Monday or Tuesday. We’re still going to be well below average.”

The Spokane Public Library will open the Hillyard, Liberty Park, Shadle Park and Central branches as warming centers from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday.

The libraries were previously scheduled to be closed in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

At the STA Plaza, Robert Snow said he was awakened by STA security whenever he fell asleep in the station.

“If you fall asleep, they harass you. I can’t go outside. It’s too cold. I’ll turn into a frozen statue,” he said.

Reporter Emry Dinman contributed to this report.