By Conor McCue

DENVER, Colo. (CBS4) – With subzero temperatures bearing down on the Denver metro area, those experiencing homelessness are in for the coldest stretch of nights in some time. Knowing that, a number of outreach groups went out Sunday to offer resources and even rooms to unhoused people.

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“I am so worried that we’re going to lose some folks over this weekend,” said Kelsang Virya, a Buddhist Nun who helps those experiencing homelessness.

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Virya was one of several people associated with a number of different groups who stopped by an encampment at Broadway and Colfax Sunday afternoon. There, they handed out clothing, blankets, hot food, hand sanitizer, and more.

“We just bring everything we have, whatever we have and give what we and it always seems to be enough,” said Greg Hernandez with the Mobile Outreach Alliance.

One of the many people who received assistance was Mike, who has lived in a tent in the area for the last four months. He said he’s done his best to stay warm but described the last few days as “horrible.”

“Two years ago, I lost two toes from being in the cold, but this is way colder than I have ever experienced,” Mike said.

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Demand for shelter space is high right now, but beds are available around the city. According to the Denver Rescue Mission, 273 guests stayed at the 48th Avenue Center Saturday night and 160 stayed at the Lawrence Street Community Center.  The Holly Center, which has about 200 beds, is currently closed because the heat is out.

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Several overflow shelters also opened up for the weekend. The City and County of Denver is operating one at La Alma Rec Center, and the Salvation Army is operating another at the Denver Coliseum.

Mike tells CBS4 he chooses not to go to the shelter, partly because of his concerns about COVID-19.

“I don’t feel safer because of the elements and how cold it is, but I would take my pick of being out here and trying to survive than going in there and dealing with trying to catch something,” He said.

For others, that risk is even greater, which is why Virya and her fellow volunteers offered up hotel rooms as well. She said she believes the gesture could save a life.

“Some are hunkered down and they’re pretty OK; they’re with their buddies in a tent and we just want to give them stuff to stay warm then,” Virya said. “But there are a lot of loaner or vulnerable folks, older folks out there, that really need to get into rooms.”

(credit: CBS)

For Virya and others, these grassroots outreach efforts are a way to give unhoused populations the types of help they say the city is not.

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“If it weren’t for the mutual aid groups in Denver, these folks would not be OK tonight,” She said.

Conor McCue