In DC, we’re trying to squeeze the last days of warmth and sunshine out of the summer, and the last thing we want to think about is the temperature dropping more. But winter is on its way. Did you know that hypothermia, a life-threatening condition due to body temperature falling below 95 degrees, can occur when the outside temperature is as high as 50 degrees? Wet clothes or socks can exacerbate already difficult weather conditions to make the risk of hypothermia greater.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors has reported for years that the number of requests for shelter beds far outweighs the actual number of emergency shelter beds available, and this is especially the case during periods of cold weather when it is just not healthy to remain outdoors.
It is never too late, or too early, to plan how your community can help those who do not have a warm place to call home this winter. From out report on Winter Services , here are 5 things to be sure to include while you are planning for this winter.
5 Tips for Winter Services Planning:
Increased Outreach – Talk to people who stay on the street to help you locate camps and common sleeping areas.
Stock up on Blankets and Warm Clothing – Wet clothing will not keep anyone warm and can lead to greater risk of illness.
Emergency Transportation – Does your city have vans or shuttles available to transport people to shelters that may be across town?
Day Centers – Make sure there is somewhere people can go, at least when the temperature falls below 40 degrees F.
Low Barrier Nighttime Shelter – Any past bans or other restrictions should be waived on nights when the temperature is lower than 40 degrees F. If needed, people who are violent or under the influence can be separated, so long as they can remain warm.
Similar to many other cities during the pandemic, Pittsburgh saw a large increase in the number who fled the shelters and could not find other housing so began living outside. Much of this trend is out of the cities hand, except for how they choose to react to this crisis or minimize it. Pittsburgh is the largest city within Allegheny County. Allegheny County prioritized those without housing to keep them safe during the pandemic. Other cities such as Cleveland, OH, and Santa Fe, NM, went down the same path, but most other cities adopted a law enforcement strategy to homelessness. Because unhoused individuals have many chronic health conditions they are at higher risks of getting COVID-19. There are far fewer places to isolate, which has caused an increasing number of people living on the streets in freezing temperatures.
Allegheny County took a more hands on approach and worked to keep everyone safe. They utilized every federal resource they could find, assembled unprecedented amounts of funding to get people inside. They adopted a prevention strategy, and tried connecting people to available services. In looking at models from the pandemic, we believe that Pittsburgh can serve as a template for other government entities to model in response to a health crisis as well as a better strategy for dealing with the emergency of homelessness.
Abigail Horn, Deputy Director of the Office of Community Services for Allegheny County, and Andy Halfhill, Administrator for Homeless Services for Allegheny County shared that the Health Department played an important and positive role in protecting their homeless population. The Health Department met regularly with homeless providers to determine best practices. They also sent staff to check out the shelters and determine next best steps following any health checks. Ms. Horn shared that they were very hands-on and active within the community.
Allegheny County tried to take advantage of every single resource they had available to help their homeless population during these troubling times of the pandemic. They worked to be very nimble and to meet any needs that came along. One of Allegheny County’s main successes was their focus on getting the Safe Haven Hotel running and available for isolation and quarantine spaces. Families and youth could utilize these spaces which also included single adults. This effort helped to deconcentrate people from congregate single shelters. Part of these spaces were designated to move people who were deemed “higher risk individuals” into a safer space. They also were able to utilize rooms in the winter for winter shelter overflow. These efforts started within the first year of the pandemic, showing where the county’s priorities rightfully laid.
Another great success from the county involves how they used the funding and resources they had hosted community discussions to figure out the priorities and then used the dollars coming in from the federal government to prioritize the needs. They decided to focus on their most vulnerable community members with chronic health conditions who had no where else to stay. They used their funding to provide hygiene centers and toilets to larger encampments. Furthermore, the county pushed to help get everyone vaccinated and tested. They sent medical professional out to the streets, and they offered a space to isolate and quarantine at the Safe Haven Hotel.
Rather than clearing encampments and displacing individuals, they brought resources to those sleeping rough in Pittsburgh. County officials passed along essential resources and compassion that they hoped would build trust to bring people inside. Historically, Pittsburgh has been really respectful, working with outreach teams and educating their police on the best ways to interact with the diverse homeless population. Police are paired with street outreach who get to take the lead with issues or concerns facing homeless individuals. Furthermore, police defer to street outreach teams to help with clean up when residents request and to help pick up trash. This helps ensure that people’s belongings are not being thrown out.
The county’s funding was also used to help families with the technology barriers for online schooling. They provided additional resources, such as cellphones, laptops, and hotspot access to those in need. These resources also helped families and individuals access the internet and online services to contact doctors and other essential providers. Additionally, IPads were provided to the Safe Haven Hotel to help the people living there temporarily. Allegheny County has long- term efforts in place to serve their homeless sector, as this crisis was here before the pandemic and will be here afterwards until something major is done.
They keep their street outreach teams active throughout the year doing health checks and connecting people to housing and hygiene services. These outreach teams play a huge role in the county. They helped connect unhoused individuals to the Safe Haven Hotel as needed. Allegheny County has worked to get the emergency resources they were given on the streets as quickly as possible. During the pandemic, they worked to show that they were using the federal recovery dollars in a strategic and meaningful purpose.
Both state and national entities came through strongly to support the county’s efforts, enabling them to focus on supportive services that saved people’ lives. This includes an extremely robust eviction prevention program. This program kept the surge in homelessness that was seen across the nation to a minimum in Allegheny County. This program was essential because it provided more ways to keep people in their affordable housing and prevent them from joining the homeless population.
Ms. Horn shared that it was not the amount of funding that needs to increase if local communities are prioritizing their funding in a similar way to Allegheny County; instead, she shared what would help the most would be for government at all levels to provide more affordable housing. Ms. Horn shared, “It is hard for people to successfully leave the system because they cannot find safe, stable, and affordable housing when they leave, and I know that is the same across the nation.”
There are currently a lot of programs for veterans, youth, and families. This covers many of the subpopulations of homeless people, however, there are huge groups that fall through the cracks. Ms. Horn and Mr. Halfhill shared that the sub-population increasing the greatest are those with long term stays without housing and those with behavioral health issues. They would like to focus next on creating better connections between homeless individuals and behavioral health services. Allegheny County used the resources at their disposal to help keep their homeless population safe before, during, and after the pandemic. The models in Pittsburgh/Allegheny County can work in other cities to keep our homeless neighbors safe and while the appropriate housing is developed to lower the numbers.
We are Broken Hearted this Valentine’s Day Over the Deaths of our Neighbors whose lives were cut short by Homelessness. Urge our Elected Leaders to Do More to Create and Build More Affordable Housing.
In 2018, National Healthcare for the Homeless estimated that at least 17,500 people experiencing homelessness died without a home. That’s at least 49 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters or friends dying everyday because they were unable to afford safe housing and adequate health care. How many more people have to die before Housing is a Human Right in this country?
Those who died were artists, teachers, first responders, those laid off because of the pandemic, and business owners. They were followers of nearly every major religion and spent countless hours volunteering to serve others. They lived in the richest country on the planet and yet died because they did not have the basic income needed to pay the bills or to afford housing or quality health care. Each of their lives counted, even though they were cast aside by their country and communities.
The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), and hundreds of partners across the country have remembered their names and their stories for over 30 years on National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, held symbolically on the winter solstice. On February 11, 2022, NCH Staff and Advocates who have experienced homelessness will read over 3,000 names of individuals whose lives were cut short due to the effects of unstable housing.
But we need to do more than remember their names. We can begin by passing the Build Back Better Act, which includes direly needed and historic investments of almost $170 billion in housing accessibility programs. NCH is sending “Broken Heart” Valentine’s Day messages to every member of the US Senate that include the names of constituents who have died without housing.
We are urging you to send a similar message to your elected leadership in your local, state or national leaders.
Does your heart break for the 17,500+ people without homes who die each year? The Senate must pass the critical housing investments in #BuildBackBetter to prevent more unnecessary deaths! #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths #HousingNOW #PassBBB
My heart breaks for the more than 17,500 people who die without homes each year. We have to do better! We can start with passing nearly $170 billion in critical housing supports in #BuildBackBetter! #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths #HousingNOW #PassBBB
Data shows that between 17,500 and 46,500 people die without housing each year. That’ s at least 17,500 people dying due to extreme weather, violence or unattended health conditions. That’s at least 17,500 people dying preventable deaths. #PassBBB #BuildBackBetter #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths https://nhchc.org/homeless-mortality/
Dear Senator: You have the power to undo decades of disinvestment in housing programs and communities that could prevent more of your constituents succumbing to deep poverty and homelessness. Pass #BuildBackBetter with housing. Save lives, [your state] needs you. #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths #HousingNOW #PassBBB