City hopes to keep Lawrence Winter Emergency Shelter open 24/7 during extreme cold snap

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Post updated at 9:31 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20:

With dangerously cold temperatures in the forecast over the next several days, the Winter Emergency Shelter at the Community Building will be open around the clock if the city can get enough volunteers.

The WES is usually open from 8 p.m. through 7 a.m. nightly for community members who need a warm place to sleep, but the building then closes before reopening for its daytime hours. With wind chills well below 0° in the forecast, the city hopes to keep the building open from 9 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21 through 7 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27, so that no one has to leave.

“The dangerously cold wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes,” according to the National Weather Service in Topeka.

However, the WES will only be able to operate for those extended hours if the city gets sufficient volunteer support to supplement staff at the site, according to a news release from the city on Tuesday.

The Lawrence City Commission at its meeting Tuesday approved a resolution to declare a health and safety emergency to allow continuous use of the WES for the extreme cold period. The resolution also lifts the 75-person cap to allow up to 150 people to stay there.

Douglas County likely won’t get quite as much snow as the National Weather Service in Topeka had forecast on Monday, but very dangerously cold temperatures and wind chills are still on their way. (Read more at this link.)

Volunteers are needed at the WES for several shifts during the cold snap, particularly on Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 24 and 25), according to the release. Those who are interested can sign up to help at this link.

The Community Building, 115 W. 11th St., is the only emergency shelter that the city will have open on Sunday, Dec. 25, as the other recreation facilities will be closed for the holiday, according to the release. The city also plans for the WES to remain open for 24 hours on Sunday, Jan. 1.

In addition, much-needed supplies including winter gloves, wool hats, and wool socks (in all adult sizes); HotHands warming inserts for hands and feet; and individually packaged snack foods such as protein bars, trail mix and crackers can be brought to the Community Building during its operating hours and from 7 to 11 p.m. nightly.

“The City asks our community for kindness, empathy and to please take the time to stop and check on people this time of year,” the news release states.

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