Temperatures are dropping this time of year in many parts of the world, America included. And as it gets colder and colder outside, one group in particular faces new and dangerous challenges: those who are homeless.
While homelessness is a serious issue throughout the year, it becomes more pressing in the winter months. For people living on the street, colder temperatures and wet weather can pose serious risks—even when the weather doesn’t seem extreme to the general public.
Frostbite isn’t the only danger that homeless individuals face. Hypothermia can quickly set in if their body temperature drops below 90℉, which happens more quickly as wind chill increases. Wet weather can soak the limited clothing they have, further increasing the risk of hypothermia and frostbite, as well as a myriad of other health concerns.
One of the main recommendations by the NOAA in this weather involves dressing in layers and covering exposed skin. The more skin that is exposed, the greater effect that wind chill can have and the greater the risk of frostbite. But for many of our neighbors who are homeless, layering up is more complicated—they might only have the clothes on their back.
The homeless struggle to get many things they need, and inadequate clothing can have disastrous effects. In January 2018, a nationwide cold front in the United States led to a lot of worry—and even some deaths. In one week, at least twelve people passed away due to extreme cold, according to AP News. The cold isn’t just uncomfortable; it can become life-threatening.
This is a sobering reality, and one that spans different regions and even different countries. But how can ordinary citizens help?
According to the sock company Bombas, socks are the most requested item at homeless shelters. Clean, warm, and dry socks are essential to help those who are homeless stay warm and healthy. So Bombas donates a pair of socks for every pair that is purchased. Their contributions make their way into homeless shelters, food banks, and community centers throughout the United States, and then into the hands of hurting people.
Socks are only part of the solution—coats, hats, and gloves are also essential to protect people from the wind and cold. Another issue that many have brought up lately has revolved around when warming shelters open. Many communities set a certain threshold, such as 10℉, before shelters are available. Homelessness advocates have been pushing to open them sooner, as even 30℉ weather can be dangerous for people without adequate clothing.
Treat yourself (and someone who is homeless) to a pair of socks. And then check out how you can help advocate for opening shelters more quickly—and keeping our friends warm and safe this time of year.
| Written by Benjamin Hoekstra