ELYRIA — Keeping an eye out for homeless people was part of Elyria police Officer Eric Palmer’s duties Tuesday night.
With the frigid weather potentially deadly, police were on the lookout for the homeless. However, with the temperature 1 degree below zero, the streets were nearly barren.
“It’s brutal,” Palmer said as he walked to his cruiser after searching for a homeless man who sometimes stays in an equipment shed behind the Lorain County Historical Society, 509 Washington Ave.
The door to the shed was open. Inside were doors, plywood and rakes, but no signs of occupancy. “If they can find something like that, they’ll go in,” Palmer said.
Besides the shed, Palmer also checked a shopping center by the Dollar Tree, 853 Cleveland St. Palmer said police have received calls about a man in a tent staying there, but he was gone when Palmer arrived at 8 p.m. A makeshift cart with the man’s belongings remained at the site.
Palmer also checked under bridges and the lobby of the Elyria Post Office, 345 E. Bridge St. The locations are traditional spots where homeless people go.
Because some have warrants out on them or have had bad experiences with police, Palmer said homeless people often try to avoid police. When temperatures are near zero or below, Palmer said even the chronically homeless tend stay inside with friends or at a homeless shelter.
Nonetheless, Palmer wanted to alert those unaware that an emergency shelter was opened by the city Sunday at St. Mary Parish Hall, 320 Middle Ave. The shelter is expected to stay open until 6 a.m. Thursday when slightly warmer weather is predicted, according to Bruce Shade, assistant safety service director.
A combined 17 people used the shelter Sunday and Monday and at least 10 were using it Tuesday, Shade said. The Haven Center and St. Joseph Overnight Shelter in Lorain were both at or near capacity Tuesday night according to shelter officials there. When the emergency shelter isn’t open, police sometimes take homeless people to the Lorain shelters when beds are available, according to police Sgt Ryan Warfield.
While extreme cold can kill, police cannot force anyone to come inside. But Warfield said officers can usually convince people to seek shelter.
“Most of the guys are trained to talk people into doing stuff like that for their own good,” he said.
Palmer, an officer since 2007, said temperatures this week and subzero weather Jan. 6-9 were the coldest of his career. Palmer, a captain in the Ohio Army National Guard who recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan, said the temperature contrast was difficult to adjust to.
Palmer said he spends most of his shift in a warm cruiser, but understands the conditions homeless people face and the need for shelter.
“We do the best we can to find them and lead them to it,” he said.