This Week’s Cold Front Could Be Deadly for the Homeless

Written by Tara Culp-Ressler

Meteorologists are warning of an impending “Arctic blast” that could set record low temperatures across the country this week, dropping to 35 below zero in some parts of the Midwest. Icy wind chills are making the cold snap even more dangerous, driving temperatures down to as low as 50 below zero and increasing the risk of hypothermia. As of Monday, 26 states are under warnings or watches for “severe wind chill,” and health officials are warning that even just a few minutes outdoors without proper layers of clothing could lead to frostbite, particularly among people over the age of 65.

Cities like St. Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee canceled public school on Monday, encouraging people to stay indoors. Museums, libraries and zoos are also closed in Chicago. “This winter storm will be one for the record books,” Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said on Sunday, telling people to remain inside unless absolutely necessary.

But for homeless people across the country, staying inside isn’t always an option.

According to the latest government data, more than 600,000 Americans are homeless on any given night. And the low-income individuals who live on the streets are particularly at risk during extreme weather events. Each year, about 700 homeless people die from hypothermia, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Most of those deaths occur in the Northeast and Midwest, but people also freeze to death in places that aren’t typically prepared to combat cold weather, like the Bay Area.

The recent cold front and winter storms have already led to some deaths. A man froze to death on a sidewalk in Milwaukee on Friday, and an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s froze in upstate New York after wandering out of her home. And anti-poverty advocates are worried about the dangers to come for the homeless population as it gets even colder later this week.

“We’re going to lose a certain amount of them,” Billy Bishop, the co-founder of Homeless Not Hopeless in Cape Cod, acknowledged to a local outlet.

Shelters across the country are currently scrambling to ensure they can accommodate additional people during this week’s cold snap. In Missouri, the Red Cross is on standby to help treat people suffering from extreme cold. Shelters in Tennessee have activated their emergency plans, setting up overflow areas for an anticipated rush. Kansas shelters are extending their hours this week in light of the bitter cold. The Salvation Army is ramping up its outreach in Minnesota, one of the states expected to bear the brunt of the freezing temperatures. Major cities are setting up warming centers to provide relief to extremely poor people who typically spend most of their time outside.

But in some areas, there may not be enough resources to keep everyone healthy. In Camden, N.J., shelters are already overcrowded in the aftermath of last week’s snowstorm, and city officials have been accused of being unprepared to serve the homeless. Shelters are also starting to fill up in Iowa and Alabama, where local groups are encouraging individuals to donate warm clothing and blankets to the homeless. Agencies in Pennsylvania warn they’re already stretched too thin and may not have any more space for people suffering from the cold this week.

Health officials are encouraging people to dial a local hypothermia hotline if they see any individuals on the streets this week. And, in light of the fact that government programs to combat homelessness have been slashed because of the sequester, people concerned about the current weather could also be moved to make a more long-term investment to address the issue. “Play the long game. Contribute to a good organization that works with severely poor people in your area,” Harold Pollack, a public health and poverty expert based in Chicago, suggested to Forbes.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Patricia Losch
Patricia L3 years ago

My friend works in a homeless shelter and I am so proud of him for what he does to help them

Rosa Caldwell
Rosa Caldwell3 years ago

A very sad story that is happening over and over across America. Hope the warmer weather will appear very soon. It appears to be at any rate where I live.

Debbie Miller
Debbie Miller3 years ago

I was glad to hear on TV many places being offered for the homeless to go and be safe and warm. (this was in our area but I can only hope this happened in most other cities too)

Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F3 years ago

very sad

maria a.
maria A3 years ago

:-( It looks that the poorest get only attention when they are dying or they are dead. If you see news; poor people don't do news only when they appear dead in a corner or because someone abuse too much.
Some people are hard with homeless people but they are the son or daughter of somebody and they have a story to tell. Next time if you see someone living at the street; at least buy a hot drink for them.

Radoslava Todorova

Very sad, there should be home for everyone. We always can help and safe a life when we wish.

Luna Starr
luna starr3 years ago

Human AND animal

Jean Duggan
Jean Duggan3 years ago

My prayers go out to the homeless.

Steve N.
Steve N3 years ago

On the bright side, the cold has kept most of the panhandlers who tie up traffic out of the busy intersections of Providence.

Suzan F.
Suzan F3 years ago

We had a homeless man here in San Antonio who "possibly" froze to death under an I-10 bridge. This city didn't seem to think much about the safety of homeless people. We DID see a set of 3 cops in an H.E.B. parking lot, waiting for homeless people to congregate where they usually do, so they could tell them to move on. How thoughtful. :-/