By Humphrey Carter
THE heavy snowfalls in Majorca over the past two days may have brought unexpected Christmas holiday fun for some, but for others the freezing temperatures have meant festive misery.

Last night, the Social Services stepped up its annual campaign to help the needy and homeless with the cold and wet weather forecast to continue into next week.

The emergency operation started yesterday with the Emergency Mobile Units working round the clock, not only to find and help the homeless, but also to fill 32 beds in special shelters which still remain empty - despite their being hundreds of people freezing on the streets this Christmas.

The special mobile units, co-ordinated by the Red Cross, last night went out on patrol two hours earlier than usual at 8pm and remained on patrol until 4am this morning. However, the new hours allow for the mobile units to be more flexible and if the Red Cross feel there is a need, then the mobile units will remain on patrol much longer.

The primary aim of the mobile units, operated by the Social Services, Palma Council and the Balearic government, is to convince the homeless to go to local shelters.

However, some prefer to remain on the streets and for those, the mobile units are carrying hot food and drinks.
Social Services sources said yesterday that they cannot force people to go to a shelter and have to respect their wishes to remain on the streets or wherever else they plan to spend the night. “Obviously, at the moment with night time temperatures dropping below 5ºC in Palma, we're trying to be as persuasive as possible. But still some wish to take their chances, despite being warned of the dangers and threat to their lives the cold poses,” a spokesperson for the Social Services said yesterday.

Extra staff and services are being provided at all shelters as well as at places regularly frequented by the homeless to try and help them through this cold snap.

In Palma, there are a total of 403 beds available for the homeless at the various shelters, but the Social Services are concerned that 32 are still empty.

The cold snap which has gripped the region for the past few days is finally moving away, although one last snowfall is forecast for today. Yesterday, power company Gesa Endesa reported that a huge surge in demand was experienced over the Christmas weekend and the start of this week. Demand reached its peak on Christmas Eve, mainly for domestic reasons, and Monday because of the freezing temperatures. GESA sources said that a three to four percent increase in power demand is usual for this time of year but, until the end of the month, they cannot provide a complete breakdown. Last year, demand reached its peak on December 31 while in 2003 it was on December 27.

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