TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY (WSKG) – In Ithaca, there’s a stretch of land along the Cayuga Lake Inlet where several encampments of people without permanent housing live all year long. The recent snow collapsed some people’s tents. Even so, they didn’t go indoors. Instead, they doubled up with friends with more sturdy shelters.
New York State’s Code Blue order requires municipalities to provide shelter for everyone when temperatures are below freezing.
Deb Wilke is a volunteer with Second Wind Cottages in Tompkins County. They help people experiencing homelessness find permanent homes. She also helps people living in the encampments and estimates that there are about 30 people living there regularly.
Wilke said some people stay outside in bad weather for the same reasons people refuse to evacuate when they are in the path of natural disasters.
“They’re leaving a place they consider to be their home and all of their belongings are in their home but their homes aren’t as secure as our homes are, so when they walk away; it’s not that easy to lock a tent and keep people out of it,” she said.
Most shelters require people to be in at a certain time and to remain inside overnight. Wilke said that poses challenges for some homeless people.
“They’re most active at nighttime when society is asleep. So, they’re canning. They’re recycling. Perhaps they’re going in dumpsters. They’re collecting things,” she explained.
These are their work hours, she added. They would lose that time if they were in a shelter.
Then, there’s the issue of food.
Wilke said that since the pandemic began in March, meals have been left at the entrance of the encampment every day. Now, she’s worried some people are choosing to stay inside and dry over getting food.
“When you have this sort of weather, they’re not going to leave where they are. If they’re keeping warm over a candle or if they’re keeping warm by burning stuff over a little pot, they’re just not gonna get out and trudge through the snow to pick up food,” Wilke said.
Wilke described the network of outreach workers in Ithaca who work with the people in the encampments. The network includes people from social service agencies, a medical practice, religious groups and free meal programs. Even so, Wilke is concerned about what could happen over this coming weekend.
“There are fewer people providing support on the weekends,” she said.
Ithaca expects temperature drops from 14 to 22 degrees through this weekend.