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    Shelters offer night of warmth

    By BRADY DENNIS and MIKE BRASSFIELD
    © St. Petersburg Times
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    published January 8, 2003

    People and pets are going to be shivering this morning, but the plant life should do just fine.

    The latest cold snap to hit the Tampa Bay area was expected to send overnight lows to below freezing in parts of Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. The lows in Pinellas and Hillsborough were expected to hover around 40 degrees.

    Area farmers, especially those in northern counties, said they would keep an eye on the chilly weather, but they don't expect a hard enough freeze to seriously damage crops.

    "We're just not really doing that much. We're not looking for it to be that cold," said citrus grower Kathy Oleson, of Boyett's Groves outside of Brooksville. "We'll sleep tonight."

    So will many homeless people, thanks to area shelters that are offering a warm haven.

    Cold-weather shelters in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties opened their doors Tuesday night to give the homeless a place to stay during what was expected to be the chilliest night of the winter.

    "Any time it gets that cold, it becomes a public safety issue," said Cliff Smith, assistant director of the Pinellas County Department of Social Services.

    "That's why we activate the shelters."

    There are more than 2,300 homeless people on any given night in Pinellas, he said. Most of them already stay at traditional homeless shelters for families and couples or at intervention programs.

    The people who typically seek refuge from the cold are those who sleep on park benches, doorways and under bridges, Smith said.

    "They are almost exclusively males who have been homeless for probably a long time," Smith said.

    "A lot of them have substance abuse problems and are mentally ill."

    But officials at some of the shelters have been seeing women and children.

    Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa planned to spend Tuesday offering space to families, while the nearby Salvation Army housed singles.

    "Sometimes it gets pretty crowded around here," said Larry Hurst, program aide at Metropolitan Ministries. "When it gets 40 (degrees) or below, we open up to anybody walking by that wants a place to stay."

    Shelter volunteers provide the homeless with blankets, sleeping mats, dinner and breakfast.

    The cold snap is expected to end today, according to National Weather Service officials. The rest of the week looks like it will have temperatures ranging from lows in the mid to upper 40s to highs in the 70s, meteorologist Paul Close said.

    The normal low for this time of year is 53 degrees, he said. The coldest temperature recorded for Jan. 8 is 28 degrees in 1970.

    "It's not out of the question to see freezing temperatures this time of year," said meteorologist Jason Deese. "But we've had it quite often so far early this year, so in that respect it's a little atypical."

    -- Times staff writer Ed Quioco contributed to this report.

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