Photos of frost-covered beards and frozen pants standing upright on snowy lawns went viral over the weekend, as temperatures in some parts of the country dipped below those of the Antarctic. But for much of Connecticut’s homeless population, the weekend’s extreme temperatures were no laughing matter.

Gov. Ned Lamont SOM ’80 activated the state’s Severe Cold Weather Protocol from noon on Wednesday to noon on Sunday in anticipation of the cold temperatures and windchill. The protocol encourages several state agencies to coordinate with 2-1-1 — Connecticut’s 24-hour information and referral service — and shelters to ensure that everyone in the state has a place to spend time inside.

“We need to spread the word to the most vulnerable in our communities that the conditions will become too dangerous to spend extended periods of time outdoors — shelters are available throughout the state,” Lamont said in a statement Jan. 29.

Around 20 towns have posted information about available warming centers on the 2-1-1 database, including in community centers, libraries, senior centers and police buildings in addition to full-time shelters.

While the protocol is in effect, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection’s Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security use the WebEOC communications network, which allows local, regional and state emergency management officials and first responders to share updated information.

According to the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, there were a total of 3,383 homeless individuals across the state in 2018, including 2,802 sheltered and 581 unsheltered individuals. New Haven is home to more than 500 members of the state’s homeless population.

Moreover, the state has almost 700 homeless children, who are particularly susceptible to extreme temperatures because their bodies have not yet fully developed the ability to regulate body temperature, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 — who has served on the Homeless Advisory Committee — told the News that the New Haven Police Department has worked with the mayor’s office to ensure that police officers on duty are keeping an eye out for homeless individuals outside so that they can direct them to a warming center such as a school or shelter.

According to a statement from New Haven Police Department spokesman Anthony Duff, Patrol Commander Lt. Herb Sharp put the City of New Haven Cold Weather Protocol into effect on Thursday. Sharp also deployed at least two police officers to look for and assist the homeless and ordered the continued distribution of donated homemade blankets, according to Duff.

Temperatures in the state hit a low of just zero degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday night, according to CustomWeather.

Nationwide, temperatures in states like Minnesota and Illinois dropped even lower as the result of a polar vortex, with some areas reporting temperatures as low as 50 or 60 degrees below zero. The extreme weather has already claimed the lives of more than 20 individuals, including an 18-year-old student at the University of Iowa, according to Reuters.

The polar vortex is a large area of cold air and low pressure that surrounds the Earth’s poles, according to the National Weather Service. 

Nathalie Bussemaker | nathalie.bussemaker@yale.edu