Keeping the Homeless out of the Cold

At the City Mission of Schenectady, Operation Warm and Safe provides winter clothes to needy individuals and families.

There are many charitable organizations that collect and distribute clothing to the homeless including the Salvation Army and individual city missions. I can see why, given the gravity of the situation.

According to the Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Point-in-Time Count (2016), 549,928 individuals were found homeless on a single night in January 2016 with close to 40,000 veterans among their number.

According to HUD, the number of families experiencing homelessness has increased significantly from past years. Whereas in 2013, only 15 percent of homeless persons were in family households, by 2016 this number had increased to 35 percent.

The Gloversville Free Methodist Church has sued the city of Gloversville, N.Y. in order to save the city’s homeless population. Gloversville city officials have made it known that they will transport the homeless to another city during Code Blue emergencies

Homelessness contributes to ill health due to exposure to the elements and other risk factors. In winter, many homeless individuals and families face this exposure to the extreme causing frostbite, hypothermia, and death.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless’ Winter Weather Report (2010), seven hundred people experiencing or at risk of homelessness are killed from hypothermia annually in the United States.

Forty-four percent of the nation’s homeless are unsheltered which contributes to the exposure. Hypothermia, or subnormal body temperature, remains a leading, critical, and PREVENTABLE cause of injury and death among the homeless.

As winter approaches and the temperature begins to drop, many homeless people move from the streets to their community’s shelter system to escape the cold.

Without adequate and carefully constructed winter shelters, many homeless service facilities may find themselves unable to compensate for this influx of homeless people. This may leave some who seek shelter to stay on the streets in winter to face exposure to the cold leading to frostbite and hypothermia.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), the majority of shelters offer winter services only during certain months or only when the temperature falls below a certain temperature. Above those cut-offs, even in conditions under which the most dangerous cases of hypothermia occur, many cities do not offer resources to help the homeless people escape from the cold.

The NCH recommends increased knowledge of the dangers of exposure to the elements and effective shelters both in number and range of services begin at the local level to prevent death and injury to the homeless due to weather.

A model winter shelter would be open 24 hours each day between October 1 and April 30, regardless of temperature, as well as any other days during the year when the temperature falls below 40 degrees F, according to the NCH.

It would also admit all homeless people, regardless of sobriety status or past bans, unless they are violent or causing an extreme disturbance.

This matters to all of us. Many of us are at risk for homelessness. If you are poor, you are essentially an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets.

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