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Cold-related health woes at shelters down

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Although it's been cold and homeless shelters are running at or near capacity, health-related problems that usually turn up this time of year haven't.

No one has reported frostbite or any other cold weather-related injuries so far this winter.

It's the kind of business slowdown the Fourth Street Clinic likes.

"We're getting a real break in what is usually a pretty busy time of year for us," said clinic director Alan Ainsworth. "We're seeing an increase in numbers of people who need services, but flu and other illnesses are significantly less than a year ago. Early numbers were up last year, then softened just a bit, then were really up in late January."

Last January was mild, but much more snow fell earlier in November, and a two-day Olympics-rescuing storm hit the last week of January followed by extremely cold temperatures in February.

"We're halfway expecting the same scenario this year," said Matthew Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, who noted the shelter is hardly thinking that winter is over.

"Despite things being mild, we're about at capacity anyway, so when temperatures drop, as they no doubt will, we'll see a spike in the requests for shelter," he said.

He said a conservative estimate is that 60 to 80 homeless men in the area are managing to remain under viaducts or camping in places that will become much less habitable when the temperature drops.

The variable besides the weather is what the family numbers will do, he said. Other service providers such as food pantries are running a steady 25 percent increase in requests for help over last year.

Chris Viavant, chief financial officer for the Fourth Street Clinic, said construction work related to the I-15 rebuild and Olympics drew a significant number of people, many of whom are still likely here trying to make a go of it.

"Plus we can tie the increase in requests for help at area health-care providers directly to the general slowdown of the economy," he said. "The weather is mild, but the safety net is being strained in other ways."

E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com