July of 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded at Sea-Tac. Unsheltered people in Pierce County had little protection from the heat wave and must now “gear-up” for the cold winter months ahead. The pandemic reduces our options for adding emergency warm spaces to sleep. Large congregate shelters that once added extra mats in the winter can no longer do so without increasing the risk of Covid for everyone who lives and works at the shelter.____________________________________
Living outside in winter greatly increases risks of cold-related Injuries and death. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless (2010*), 700 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness die from hypothermia annually in the United States.
Unsheltered people are especially vulnerable to:
- Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation (removing the affected body part).
- While hypothermia is most likelyw hen the ambient temperature becomes very cold, it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water. In rainy weather, when clothing and survival gear become soaked, uncontrollable shivers and hypothermia are likely outcomes.
What Can We Do About Extreme Weather?
5 Tips for Winter Planning (from the National Coalition for the Homeless)
- 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.
More About Extreme Weather
- Homeless System Response: Meeting Winter Shelter Needs & Mitigating Health Risks (HUD Exchange)
- Cold-Related Injuries (National Healthcare for the Homeless Council)
* I was unable to find more current stats- please send any fresher data you have on this and I’ll update the post
Ideas for Pierce County? Bring them to the Tacoma/Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – let’s solve this.
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