Late Wednesday night, no one had died from this storm and cold, but by Thursday morning, there were three deaths.
One was a homeless man named Larry.
Lawrence “Larry” Bierl, 69, was known and welcomed around Williamsville. Larry’s death has particularly struck the homeless community and those who help that population.
“It is absolutely heartbreaking for a group of people that runs around and really, really tries to make sure that everybody gets off the street,” said Jean Bennett, who chairs Buffalo’s Code Blue Committ.
Bennett is also director of housing and Homesless Services at Restoration Society, and she runs Harbor House, a shelter in downtown Buffalo.
So what can you do when a person chooses to stay outside, even if they’re in danger?
It’s a tricky subject, but a 2016 executive order by Governor Andrew Cuomo helped define when a person has the right to stay outside and when that decision is made by others.
If it’s below 32 degrees, and it’s determined a person is unstable, Buffalo Police Captain Jeff Rinaldo says mental hygeine law allows police to take a person to a shelter.
“When it is this cold, literally it is a matter of life and death, sadly, as we’ve seen,” Bennett said. “And so we don’t allow anybody to stay out. We try to get them through the Buffalo Police Department or Crisis Services to get them attention.”
So why might someone refuse to come inside? Kelly Dodd with the WNY Coalition for the Homeless says it might be a sense of worthlessness, or it could be mental health related.
“They cannot make it throughout the entire night. So really at that point they are not stable, perhaps, or they are a danger to themselves, so police will respond and they will assist us,” Bennett said.
In Buffalo, Code Blue has a 12 passenger outreach van that visits all the spots homeless people are known to have been over the past five years, but the suburbs don’t have that same level of outreach. That’s why in a place like Williamsville, where Larry died, it’s important for concerned people to call 211 or the local police department to help get a homeless person somewhere safe.