Homeless shelters in Tulsa have been packed this week as temperatures fell below freezing. In fact, those who run local shelters tell News On 6 it's the earliest they've seen this many people trying to escape the cold.
"We are full to the max. All of the shelters are," said John 3:16 Mission Senior Pastor Steve Whitaker.
Rev. Whitaker has seen a growing number of homeless people every year. He said it was especially noticeable during the heat wave this summer. Now that winter is coming, they're expecting even more.
"If you have no place to warm up, this will kill you," Whitaker said.
Whitaker said the last time the shelters did a full count last February, they had a 30 percent increase in the number of unsheltered homeless people.
They're staying in camps along the Arkansas River in west Tulsa, under bridges and behind businesses. The number of those who were staying in shelters went up by nearly 10 percent.
"It's a lot of people. You start thinking; we're counting noses and making sure we've got beds for everybody. The truth of the matter is we don't have beds for everybody. There's still a lot of people outside," Whitaker said.
They're adding more beds and having people sleep in their front lobby to meet the demand. The Salvation Army is also above capacity.
Whitaker said the real concern comes if there's a big snowstorm, such as the blizzard of 2011 or an ice storm like the big one in 2007. That storm left a layer of ice 3 inches thick and brought northeastern Oklahoma to a standstill for more than a week.
"It depends on what the winter is like. If we have a moderate winter, we'll be OK. If we have a brutal winter...we're going to have a major crisis," Whitaker said.
He said that if that worst-case scenario happens, they'll be forced to have people sleep on the floors to try and make things work.