Downtown Atlanta on January 17, 2018, when the forecast high was 25 degrees, versus 40 degrees in Anchorage, Alaska. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC

At least 11 freeze to death in Atlanta since December

Eleven people have died from exposure to the cold in the Atlanta area since Dec. 1, according to records obtained from the Fulton County Medical Examiner.

Eight of those who died from hypothermia — or abnormally cold body temperature — were homeless, the records show. Seven of the deaths occurred in December, including two on Dec. 10, and four people have died in January, including the most recent on Jan. 15 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Petonio Griggs, 45, was wearing jeans but no shirt and was wrapped in blankets when he was found dead on the loading docks of a Lower Wall Street parking deck around 9:30 a.m. Jan. 15, according to investigators. Griggs was the youngest person to die from hypothermia in Fulton, and the oldest was 87, records showed.

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The winter season has been an exceptionally cold and snowy one for the Atlanta area, and the city has ongoing plans in place to find shelters for the homeless population, which has decreased in recent years. But advocates say there’s still more to be done.

“It’s a problem if there’s one person that doesn’t have the resources that other people have,” Josh Bray, CEO of Safehouse Outreach, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Atlanta police department’s HOPE unit, or Homeless Outreach Proactive Enforcement, is tasked with helping get people of the streets.

“Their mission has always been to engage homeless people, find out what their needs are and get them into long-term solutions,” Carlos Campos, police spokesman, said.

Last week when a winter storm brought snow and sub-freezing temperatures to Atlanta, APD officers picked up approximately 90 people, giving them rides to shelters or warming centers, Campos said. That number was higher due to the extreme weather, Campos said.

The deaths blamed on cold weather weren’t limited to downtown Atlanta.

In Cobb County, investigators believe hypothermia may have also contributed to three additional deaths in December. And on Dec. 19, one person died from hypothermia in Butts County, about 55 miles southeast of Atlanta, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

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