When it's this cold, GRPD officers make sure the homeless find shelter

We went on a ride along with a GRPD officer who is making sure people are staying warm tonight.

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - Grand Rapids Police made the extra push to convince people in city's homeless community to stay in local shelters during the extreme cold on Tuesday, Dec. 26. 

WZZM 13 rode along with Sgt. John Wittkowski as he drove to many typical encampment spots in Grand Rapids. 

The freezing cold conditions are hazardous, so there are multiple officers making rounds to persuade people to find shelter, Wittkowski said. 

"This becomes a life-or-death situation," he said. "We'll attempt to cajole people to seek shelter. You let people know what the services are."

When it's this cold, it can take less than 30 minutes of exposure for someone to get frostbite. 

It's hard to stay alive outside the shelters in this weather, said Marcy Zaccanelli, who stays at Degage Ministries. 

"I was in the snow," Zaccanelli said. "We had to cut ourselves out of the tent because we couldn't get out. This [shelter] saved my life. It did. I've been here since they sent me from the hospital." 

Many people refuse to stay at the shelters, despite the urgency, Wittkowski said. 

"There are varying reasons for that," he said. "Oftentimes, it's due to mental illness, unfortunately, which is pronounced within the homeless community. It's also due to the fact that many of them don't trust the shelters for one reason or another." 

Grand Rapids Police directed people to many shelters in the area, including Degage, Mel Trotter Ministries and Guiding Light. 

Shelters can fill up quickly in this cold, said Marge Palmerlee, executive director at Degage. 

"We try and accommodate as many [people] as we can, but we are limited by our space," Palmerlee said. "We can accommodate up to 40 women. In a dire situation, we can accommodate maybe three, four, five more women." 

This is an all-hands-on-deck problem in this weather, Wittkowski said. 

"Everybody that's down here that sees this problem [should] call the authorities, so we can at least attempt to get them into shelters," he said. 

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