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Homeless Adapting to Cooler Temperatures

Published By: Shafiqul Bhuiya

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For most people, the holidays are a joyous time, filled with friends and family. However, that is not the case for everyone. For the homeless population, it may be one of the most dangerous times of the year. As of January 2020, there were 580,466 individuals experiencing homelessness in the United States, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. This number does not include the increase in homeless individuals due to the pandemic. Many of these individuals will not have the opportunity to enjoy the comforts that most people enjoy during the holidays. Instead, their current situation may become even more precarious due to the drop in temperature that accompanies the holiday months.

One of the biggest challenges faced by the homeless population is the drop in temperatures during the holiday season. They are at a much higher risk of suffering from cold weather-related injury or death than the general population. This is due to their prolonged exposure to the outdoors. These risks become even more detrimental due to the chronic conditions that homeless individuals face. Malnutrition, inadequate clothing, as well as alcohol and drug abuse are all factors that can heighten the risks associated with the colder weather.

A clear consequence of prolonged exposure to cold weather is hypothermia. It is a leading and preventable cause of injury and death among the homeless population. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 700 homeless individuals die annually from hypothermia in the United States. It is a medical condition that results when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. According to the Mayo Clinic, normal body temperature is around 98.6 °F (37 °C). Hypothermia ensues as your body temperature falls below 95 °F (35 °C). When the body temperature falls, your organs cannot function normally. If not treated promptly, hypothermia can lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system.

To escape from the cold, homeless individuals often seek refuge in shelters during the winter months. However, the shelter’s efforts may become limited for a variety of reasons, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. Some shelters only operate at night, or operate only when the temperature falls below arbitrary cut-offs. Furthermore, some shelters are restricted to those that meet specific criteria, such as only sober individuals. Additionally, many shelters also implement social distancing guidelines, which severely limit the number of individuals they are able to accept.

A variety of steps can be taken to meet the increasing needs of the homeless during the winter months. To meet the increase in demand, shelters can adapt or expand their services during the winter months. They may operate for extended hours, and alter their screening criteria so no individual will be turned away during cold nights. Additionally, shelters have also partnered with hotels to expand the services they are able to provide, and alleviate some space constraints. Finally, donations from the community, be it monetary or warm clothing, are effective ways of helping shelters mitigate the increase in demand for resources. Even though the holiday season brings new challenges that homeless individuals have to face, there are many things the community and the shelter system can do to mitigate the impact of the colder weather.

Resources:

http://www.nationalhomeless.org/publications/winter_weather/report.html#6

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6765826/

State of Homelessness: 2021 Edition

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/winter-approaching-homeless-shelters-face-big-challenges-against-coronavirus-n1249906

https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/winter-here-covid-19-limiting-shelter-capacity-what-will-it-mean-people-experiencing-homelessness

https://www.mynews13.com/fl/orlando/news/2020/12/01/central-florida-shelters-strategize-social-distancing-as-temperatures-drop

The Effects of Cold Weather on Those Facing Homelessness

About the author
Shafiqul Bhuiya
Shafiqul Bhuiya is a Bangladeshi-American from Bronx, New York. He has graduated with a Masters in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Central Florida and aspires to become a Physician Assistant. He is currently working as a Molecular Technologist in Infectious Disease testing. Shafiqul enjoys exercising, playing video games, and volunteering with Project Downtown Orlando during his free time. He believes in the power of proper healthcare and the hope it can bring to people in need.

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