Cold and Homelessness

Helping homeless people survive winter weather

While the midwestern United States has been dealing with bitter cold this winter, an even harsher and more dangerous stretch of cold is expected in the final days of January as the polar vortex plunges south. In North America, Arctic temperatures can be experienced from coast to coast and from northernmost Canada even to southern states. An estimated 75 percent of the U.S. population will experience below freezing temperatures this week.

Aside from feeling miserable, homeless folks are vulnerable to dangerous health concerns when temperatures outside turn frigid. Some even choose to move around at night and sleep during the day so hypothermia can’t set in while they’re asleep. Frostbite is also a real danger.

Citygate Network suggests the following ways you can offer practical help to people trying to survive without shelter during the bitter months of winter.

  1. Put together “cold kits” with hand warmer packets, lip balm, a few pairs of socks, a knit hat, a scarf, a handkerchief, a few large black garbage bags, and a gift certificate to McDonald’s or other local fast food restaurant that serves hot coffee. Put it all inside a reusable bag.

  2. Donate blankets to rescue missions or give them directly to those living on the street. While the silver “space blankets” are cheap and portable, many homeless people don’t want to attract attention to themselves, which a reflective silver covering can do.

  3. Keep information and directions to your local mission, along with some bus passes, in your car or wallet to hand out when you see someone in need of shelter.

  4. Hand out cups of hot chocolate or coffee to people holding signs on street corners.

  5. Offer your unneeded coats to folks staying on the street. Or purchase some secondhand coats from local thrift stores for them.

  6. If you see someone staying outside in the bitter cold, use Citygate Network’s Locate a Mission feature, call a local crisis hotline, or the United Way 2-1-1 hotline.