Homelessness is happening year-round, but what happens when it gets cold outside?
The definition of cold to a homeless person is 50 degrees. At 50 degrees, hypothermia can start to set in, and the elements become harsher. Most states get below 50 degrees, even places like Los Angeles, putting their homeless population at risk.
In big cities like Chicago, the amount of homeless people is upwards of 80,000 people, too many for the beds available at homeless shelters. With no beds left for them, people have to turn to the streets during the cold winter months.
On the streets, most homeless people are just trying to find shelter from the elements. In some cities, tents are not allowed and taken from the person using them. Cities claim that the tents block pedestrian walkways or parks. In reality, tents are an easy way to help the homeless population stay warm in the winter and year-round in general, given them as much break from the elements as possible.
When the shelter is full and they can’t use a tent, the homeless population is left with the task to find warmth in other forms. Some people use blankets or coats, others have to use industrial trash bags. But unfortunately, even with all the possible options of warmth used, homeless people still face hypothermia and frostbite. If not treated immediately, loss of limbs and death can occur.
The effects of hypothermia can set in between 32-50 degrees. The body temperature starts to lower below 95 degrees and requires emergency attention. Without that emergency attention, the person can die.
While hypothermia leads to a lot of deaths, frostbite takes the limbs of many homeless people. Frostbite happens when the body becomes exposed to cold weather, and the tissue starts to die because of it. While in mild cases, the area has to be warmed up, in severe cases, the limb may have to be amputated because the tissue has died. It is unknown the number of limbs lost by homeless people, but it continues to affect them every year.
With about 700 people dying from the cold weather and hypothermia each year, cities need to expand the options for the homeless population. There should not be people dying from hypothermia or losing limbs to frostbite when it is preventable. The expansion of homeless shelters needs to happen. There should not be a ban on tents, which serve to protect the body from the elements.
The treatment of the homeless population needs improvement all around, but especially when it comes to the cold months. The easiest thing you can do this winter is consider donating supplies to your local homeless shelters.