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Man's death shows difficulty of helping homeless

Published on -12/31/2013, 3:15 PM

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A homeless man who may have frozen to death under a bridge in Wichita had refused offers of help because he didn't want to be confined in a shelter, police and homeless advocates said.

The 61-year-old man was found dead Sunday afternoon. Police said he apparently froze to death when temperatures dropped from the mid-50s to 18 degrees overnight Saturday. Police and others who work with the homeless aren't releasing the man's name until they can confirm his identity through fingerprints. An autopsy will determine the official cause of death.

He was the 10th homeless person known to have died in Wichita this year, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/1eTqfSY ).

Police and service providers had repeatedly asked the man to go to a shelter but he refused, said Officer Nate Schwiethale, part of the police department's three-officer Homeless Outreach Team that has found housing for more than 100 people since February.

"He was resistant," Schwiethale said. "He didn't want to be confined."

Several homeless people left the encampment months ago and found housing, Schwiethale said, but the man couldn't be persuaded to leave.

"It's tragic," Schwiethale said. "He did have some income, through Social Security. He had enough money to live in housing. We could have tried to get him an apartment."

The man had a drinking problem, said Schwiethale.

"A lot of them just don't want to be around other people," said Tom Myers, who oversees a men's shelter at the Union Rescue Mission. "For whatever reason, they just want to stay out. They feel boxed in if they come to a shelter."

He said the shelter had room on Saturday night when the wind chill was between zero and 5 above.

Little can be done when a homeless person refuses help because being homeless isn't a crime, Schwiethale said.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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