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Lawton's homeless brave the winter cold

LAWTON Okla_ Local homeless shelters are seeing a spike in occupancy now that our overnight low temperatures are below freezing.

Unfortunately though, there are still some left out in the cold. Now, the Lawton Salvation Army concerned. Captain Ernie Hull said although more people sleep at the shelter this time of year, he is worried about those who refuse to come in.

He said spending the night outside in this frigid weather can be a deadly choice.

Hull said people who prefer to brave the winter or summer elements, typically suffer from mental disorders. If the person does not pose a threat to themselves or others, they can not be forced to seek shelter.

The face of homelessness in the Lawton area has changed. Instead of being predominantly male, there are more women with children staying in shelters.

Spending the night under bridges and in alleys is a reality for some of Lawton's homeless. Others choose to seek shelter to protect their children.

"The children catching the flu, getting sick, or catching a cold, are major concerns for me, because I do not need them sick," said Fretina Exum, who often stays at the Lawton Salvation Army. "I would rather be out in the cold and have them in a warm spot."

"My kids don't have the best immune systems," Tiffany Tyree said. "So, when they get sick, they get sick. It is very hard and it's not enjoyable to be out there in this 15 degree weather with three kids."

A lot of homeless people are said to seek shelter from the elements around the railroad tracks on 22nd street and "F" avenue in Lawton. Captain Hull said during these frigid winter months staying in a place like this could mean life or death.

"This weather is too frigid to stay outside," Hull said. "When the temperatures dip into the teens it's life threatening. I encourage them to come in and seek warmth and get a nice hot meal and survive the night."

Captain Hull said they still have beds available at the shelter. It's a place that, for now, these women and their children can call home.

"I don't have to worry about what is going to happen with my kids," Tyree said. "I have a roof over my kids' heads until I can provide one for them."

Captain Hull said dinner at the shelter starts at 6 PM, and check-in time to stay overnight starts at 7 PM and ends at 9 PM. He said residents have to be out by 8 AM.

However, Captain Hull said if you miss check in time, don't worry; you can still stay over night at the shelter but the protocol is different.

"Any police officer can bring them in after check-in time. They just need to get with an officer. Usually, if an officer sees them they point them in our direction anyway. If they bring them in, they can still come in."

Hull also said the shelter is planning on starting a warming shelter during the day.



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