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Posts Tagged ‘Hypothermia’

National Coalition for the Homeless Calls for Warming Centers to be Opened in US Cities to Meet Demand!

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

In response to the deaths in Sacramento we are also urging that the decisions to open warming centers be made by elected officials and not unelected bureaucrats.

The state capital for the most populous state in the union, Sacramento, is struggling to serve low income people during the pandemic. Last week, they made the tragic decision to not open a warming center as a storm approached. On the evening of January 26 a thunderstorm hit the region with 70 mph winds and flooding that resulted in the death of at least five people living outside

The National Coalition for the Homeless is renewing our call to open warming centers based on need and not some arbitrary number like the expected temperature outside.  In response to the specific tragedy in Sacramento, we are urging that elected officials from around the country be forced to make the decision on when to open a warming center so that they have to face voters when their lack of action has deadly consequences. In Sacramento, NCH is asking that for the rest of the winter that the warming centers or a motel room be opened to anyone who requests a place inside in memory of those who lost their lives during this past storm. Karen Hunter was sleeping alone in a tent as the horrible wind struck Sacramento and lost her life because her government could not provide a safe place for her to ride out the storm.

As the storm approached on Tuesday January 26, three City Council members as well as the Mayor urged the County to open a warming center to get people inside, but City Manager, Howard Chan decided that the temperature was not going to below the 32 degree threshold mandated by the County according to an investigation by the Sacramento Bee’s Teresa Clift. The City of Sacramento has some byzantine rules about only opening the warming centers if the temperature gets to 32 degrees despite the heavy rain expected, and the fact that many people die of hypothermia because they are wet and cold.  Chan justified his action to the Sacramento Bee saying that his fear was the warming center would become a Covid hotspot and spread the disease throughout the community.  Other cities such as Cleveland have opened hotel rooms instead of gymnasiums to those who sleep outside to keep them safe from the elements as well as the coronavirus.

The public radio station quoted Mayor Darell Steinber as demanding the County open a safe place ahead of the storm.  Here is how Kris Hooks of CapRadio described the lack of urgency from the County when describing the Mayor,

“Darrell Steinberg expressed outrage over the slow-moving bureaucracy to move people out of the elements. ‘We can’t get a Goddamn warming center open for more than one night because the county has rules? I’m sick of it,’ Steinberg said.”

The Sacramento Bee also included the same quote in their investigation, “Night of Terror: Sacramento homeless lined up for shelter during the storm. The doors never opened.”

“It is real simple,” said Donald Whitehead Executive Director of National Coalition for the Homeless, “City governments must respond when a taxpayer asks for a warm place inside or if they cannot keep their citizens safe they have no reason to exist. The threat of hypothermia is typically a result of an individual not being able to keep themselves dry and their temperature drops.  We urge cities to respond when any individual asks for help by providing a safe, warm place for the everyone to sleep if they do not have night time shelter.  So for example, if a couple, lets call them Mary and Joseph, shows up at City Hall and asks for a place to stay out of the elements, cities have a moral obligation to open up their doors and not force Mary to sleep in a barn exposed to the elements especially during inclement weather.”

The Sacramento Bee article quoted Mark Jordan who was living next to the tent Karen Hunter died in saying, “I just thought my heart was going to stop. I was so cold.” Since unelected bureaucrats do not seem to have moral compass to understand the needs of the population they serve, NCH is asking that the life and death decisions of when to open “warming centers” be made by someone in the community who will have to face the public in an election if they make the wrong decision. We believe that Karen Hunter paid with her life because an unelected bureaucrat made a decision that the thousands of people in Sacramento living outside could survive a thunderstorm with only a thin layer of nylon for protection. 

The Sacramento Services Not Sweeps Coalition is hosting a vigil for those who lost their lives in the city last week on Friday, February 5 at 5 p.m., at Sacramento City Hall, and march to the County building to demand a more humane response to the housing crisis in the region. We urge activists in the region to show up (fully masked) and maintain 6 feet of social distancing to support the Services Not Sweeps Coalition demands for action. For more information on local efforts to protect the most vulnerable in Sacramento, visit the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness website.

Here are some additional articles about the situation in Sacramento:

5 Tips for Winter Planning

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness

by Megan Hustings

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.

Cities around the country are finalizing plans to provide warming centers and additional beds in emergency shelters when temperatures drop this winter.

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:

  1. Increased Outreach – Talk to people who stay on the street to help you locate camps and common sleeping areas.
  2. Stock up on Blankets and Warm Clothing – Wet clothing will not keep anyone warm and can lead to greater risk of illness.
  3. Emergency Transportation – Does your city have vans or shuttles available to transport people to shelters that may be across town?
  4. Day Centers – Make sure there is somewhere people can go, at least when the temperature falls below 40 degrees F.
  5. 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.

Response to Homelessness: Hot or Cold?

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness

In January, NCH released a report on Winter Services that detailed extended shelter hours and other services that work to decrease the risk of hypothermia deaths among people who are homeless. Hypothermia refers to the life-threatening conditions that can occur when a person’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

HypERthermia is just the opposite referring to a myriad of conditions that can occur as a result of a person absorbing or producing more heat that the body can dissipate. Just as with hypothermia, people most at risk of hyperthermia are the young and elderly, those who have persistent medical conditions, and those exposed to extreme environmental conditions.

NCH’s Winter Services report found that 700 people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness are killed from hypothermia annually in the United States. A similar report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that looked at data from 1999 to 2003 found that on average 688 deaths each year were due to hyperthermia. While the CDC report does not mention the housing status of those who passed away due to heat-related illnesses, we can relate the risks to people who are homeless (my comments in italics) to the CDC’s recommendations for preventing hyperthermia:

Suggestion #1: Drink more fluids, regardless of your activity level.

Many people who are homeless do not have ready access to water. Restaurants will charge, soup kitchens may only be open at certain times during the day, there are fewer and fewer publicly accessible water fountains, can you imagine not having a refrigerator full of cold water or even a sink for tap water?

Suggestion #2: Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar.

Sodas can be cheaper than bottled water! People who are suffering from alcohol dependence are at particular risk for temperature-related illness.

Suggestion #3: Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library.

There are few day centers available for people experiencing homelessness, and often, people who “look” homeless (have lots of bags or who have not been able to shower or do laundry) are turned away from establishments like libraries and restaurants.

Suggestion #4: Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.

Electric fans (anything other than a small battery-operating or hand fan), taking a shower or air-conditioning are simply not options when you have no home.

Suggestion #5: Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

Type of clothing is often not an option when you cannot pay for appropriate pieces or do not have somewhere secure to store clothing.

Some communities have stepped up efforts to prevent the risk of hyperthermia among people experiencing homelessness: the Arizona Department of Health Services published a guide on where to find cooling centers; a Columbia, South Carolina shelter has extended weekend hours to provide a cool refuge during the hot summer months; and DC opens cooling centers and emergency shower locations (though I’ve only heard from a couple of people who know about these).

But it seems that the level of response to heat emergencies is not matched even to the number of cold-weather emergency services available to people who are experiencing homelessness. Are we wrong about this? Does your community (homeless services or health departments) have cooling centers or make other extra efforts to ensure the homeless population has refuge from the summer heat? Let us know!

Other resources:
Change.org Post May 30, 2010 – How to Help the Homeless Beat the Heat
Health Care for the Homeless Council Hyperthermia factsheet

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