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Recent Butte death highlights risks for homeless in extreme cold weather

Posted at 8:06 AM, Nov 30, 2022

BUTTE - With the recent freezing temperatures, imagine calling a concrete culvert your home. Well, somebody did.

That is, until police found him dead inside recently, the likely victim of exposure. And with the continued freezing temperatures on the horizon, more people in Butte could face this same fate.

“It’s been real bad, the last couple days have been real cold. I was out the other night, it was so cold it was miserable. You know, people are freezing out here, something’s got to be done,” said Claude Vail, who says he is regularly homeless in Butte.

Butte police are awaiting the results of an autopsy on the 36-year-old homeless man who was found dead in a culvert on Nov. 26. Extreme cold can certainly be fatal to anyone who can’t find shelter.

“When it gets to be 10, 15 below zero, even 40 below zero before the winter’s over, there’s just no forgiveness in the conditions and the elements, so if a person is attempting to live in a culvert or a tent, the danger just goes way up there,” said Butte Sheriff Ed Lester.

The Butte Rescue Mission’s emergency shelter has been filled in recent days due to the cold.

“So every night it’s kind of a challenge, it’s first come, first serve. Check-in is at 4:30, so we’re trying to make sure everybody’s got a warm place to stay for the night,” said Director of the Butte Rescue Mission Braydon Erickson.

When the shelter doesn’t have room, it still gives out free winter clothes, blankets, and sleeping bags to help people endure the cold. The shelter stays open all day whenever the temperature is 10 degrees or lower. The recent death is a reminder of the need for shelter.

“That is tragic, you know, we don’t want to see anybody getting hurt and we don’t want to see anybody suffering. We want to be a soft landing where somebody can come, they can get on their feet, so to speak, they don’t have to be out in the elements,” said Erickson.

The shelter is taking donations of winter clothing and blankets.