Save a Life This Winter

I’ve been writing mostly about large, complex issues. Here’s one that’s close to us all. It’s cold outside! Cold enough, in many places, to freeze to death. And homeless people do.

Every winter, some die of hypothermia–a drop in body temperature caused by exposure to freezing temperatures. People with mental illnesses or substance abuse problems are at particular risk because they may not realize they’re freezing or be able to communicate their need for help.

Homeless people wouldn’t be at such risk if our communities all provided shelters that were safe, decent places to stay. As it is, some homeless people choose the streets rather than risk personal violence, disease and theft of their belongings. Others can’t find room at a shelter when the weather gets cold. And then there are communities that don’t have shelters at all.

Until all of this is a thing of the past, we can help prevent hypothermia one homeless person at a time. Boston Health Care for the Homeless offers tips to recognize symptoms and a number local residents can call.

Many other communities also have numbers to call for help. They’re available through the nationwide 211 Information and Referral Service. Washington, D.C. has a dedicated hypothermia hotline–800-535-7252.

So Others Might Eat (SOME) advises us to call even when we’re not certain whether it’s cold enough for the D.C. hotline to be active. I’d say the same for recognizing symptoms of hypothermia. Better to call when it feels very cold than leave a homeless person at risk.


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