Volume 19 Issue 39 | February 9 -15, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

A Dept. of Homeless Services volunteer read the paper while he waited for people suffering from the heat to show up at the city warming center at 200 Madison St. near Rutgers St. The city is providing free food and warm cots for people without heat.

Downtown warming center slow to heat up

By Brooke Edwards

With temperatures well below freezing for the past week straight, there has been a high volume of 311 calls from residents in Chinatown, the Lower East Side and the East Village complaining that they are without heat in their buildings. Yet, after the city responded by opening a “warming center” in Chinatown, none of the heatless residents have shown up.

The Office of Emergency Management and the American Red Cross opened nine warming centers throughout New York City on Tuesday, using the geographic concentration of 311 calls to determine center locations for the first time. The Chinatown center is in the Rutgers Houses Community Center on the corner of Rutgers and Madison Sts.

Though it can accommodate up to a total of 354 people, during the first night it was open, the Chinatown center housed just two. Both were homeless individuals who came in during the night, according to Red Cross workers onsite Wednesday morning. However, the workers expect more people to come as word about the warming center spreads.

The city is relying on media outlets to inform the public about the centers. Announcements have been made on several TV and radio stations, though workers at the center said many of them did not give specific locations. “They just said that there are centers located throughout all of the boroughs,” one Red Cross worker said.

The center is being staffed 24 hours a day with workers from the Red Cross, from the Department of Homeless Services and with regular community center employees. In addition to providing heat, the center also has tables set up with free food and drinks and will have cots provided by the Red Cross for people to sleep in overnight.

The center will stay open “as long as needed depending on Mother Nature,” according to one Red Cross worker. Though forecasts are predicting a slight warming over the next week, the center can anticipate staying open as nights are expected to remain in the low 20s.

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