Homeless Take Cover

Homeless Hunker Down During the Biggest Snow in Decades (By Jozie Sands)

Public officials advised citizens of the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore area to stay home during last week’s historic snowstorm. With more than 30 inches of snow, D.C.’s homeless population had to find other ways to stay both warm and dry.

Image of DC covered by up to 30 inches of snow from a recent snowstorm.
More than 30 inches of snow blanketed the city Saturday, February 6, causing more homeless to go to shelters than usual. Photo by Jozie Sands.

Much of the homeless population found haven in shelters for the brunt of the storm, which provided them with a bed and food. Others opted to get shelter in public locations like train stations.

Angelo Williams stayed in Union Station for a day-and-a-half during the worst of the storm.

“Once it stopped falling,” Williams said. “I just came back and cleared off the sidewalk in front of here.”

The two snowstorms in February added to a record-breaking season-to-date 55.9 inches at Reagan National Airport. This amount of snow is unusual for the D.C. area; the previous record for snow accumulation was 54.4 inches in 1898-99, according to the National Weather Service report.

Williams said he knew the storm was coming, but he did not expect it to be a record-breaker. He secured most of his belongings under a tarp to keep them dry, and he took his valuables with him into Union Station.

Image of a person braving the cold, wintery weather.
Photo by Juana Arias.

“I secured everything like I did in the military, it’s just part of me now.”

Those who stayed on the streets hunkered down through the storm. Some chose not to go to a shelter, while others were unable to find a shelter and therefore spent the night on the streets.

People who spent the night out-side dealt with more than 30 inches of snow, below freezing temperatures and wind. Exposure to these conditions for long periods of time, without proper protection, can lead to hypothermia. The onset of hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can be produced. Once a person’s body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit hypothermia sets in; if left untreated hypothermia will lead to the complete shutdown of the heart and respiratory system.

Programs such as the Hypothermia Watch Partner Program have maintained hotlines during the winter season, beginning November 1 and ending March 31. Hypothermia alert is in effect when the temperature, actual or forecasted, or wind chill is at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the winter of 2007-2008 the hotline received 81 hypothermia alert calls. This number rose to 112 in the winter of 2008-2009, according to the Interagency Council on Homelessness’ Winter Plan. The number for this winter is currently not tallied.

The hotline is an effort to prevent deaths related to hypothermia among people trying to sleep outside during freezing conditions. Both those who are homeless or residents who know of a homeless person can call the hotline to receive assistance.

Those who are picked up because of the alert call are taken to a local shelter, where they are provided with a meal and a bed for the night. If temperatures do not rise, they are allowed to stay until conditions are safe.

The Hypothermia Hotline: 1-800-535-7252

Street Sense takes a Hit with Snowstorm (By Robert Fulton)

Add Street Sense vendors to the list of people affected by the recent record-breaking snow storms.

Because of the inclement weather, the Street Sense offices were forced to close for approximately three-and-a-half days. The office, generally open in time with the Church of the Epiphany it is housed in, was closed as the church goes by the federal government guidelines.

The closing kept vendors from purchasing papers to sell, but sales were temporarily moved to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) at 22nd and P Street.

“From an anecdotal perspective, you can tell it was rough on them,” said Abby Strunk, executive director of Street Sense. Though sales were ultimately moved to NCG, getting the word out proved a challenge.

“That’s one thing that’s so difficult with the community,” Strunk said. “It’s tapping into the network. Lot of it is word of mouth.”

It is estimated that sales were off by approximately 5,000 papers because of the recent weather.

Vendor Manager Greg Martin estimates the paper had previously lost about 2,000 paper sales because

Image of a man sitting outside in the cold, wintery weather.
Image by Street Sense Media.

of the December snowstorm.

Even for those vendors who were able to receive papers, selling proved a problem. Most of their regular buyers weren’t in the city because they had work off.

“It’s impacted the clientele,” Strunk said. “They don’t see the regular customers on a regular basis.”

Vendor Veda Simpson was out selling by Friday, delayed because she couldn’t get transportation to her regular spot, and the icy weather forced her to use her walker instead of her preferred wheelchair.

“The weather has affected us,” Simpson said. “Really bad.”

She added that the generosity of regulars should get her through the tough time.

“I’ll make it up over the weekend,” Simpson said.

Strunk is asking customers to buy $10 in papers from vendors and share them at their offices to help make up the difference.

“This weather affects everyone,” said Sturnk, who joined Street Sense in December. “Before I came to Street Sense, I didn’t realize how it impacted the under-served population.”

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