Just a couple miles from where lawmakers set the course on everything from taxes to the availability of housing vouchers for low-income Americans, two homeless people were found dead Wednesday morning, with hypothermia being cited as the likely cause.
Washington D.C. had made an effort to try to protect its homeless residents from dangerous weather this year, with new innovations such as “warming buses,,” city buses that were parked across the city with the heat on for those in need. The buses were quite popular; hundreds of homeless people could be found on board when temperatures dropped, in part because shelters in D.C. have been overflowing.
However, when temperatures turned unseasonably cold on Tuesday, many were caught off guard. Though city officials had issued a hypothermia alert, which requires the city to provide shelter for any homeless resident who wants it, some homeless people decide not to seek it. Their reasons for doing so can vary, from not knowing an alert is in place, to an aversion to crowded shelters, to the fact that many have nowhere to store their possessions.
Two such homeless men, who likely spent Tuesday night outside instead of in a shelter, were found on Wednesday morning off of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Their names have not been released, nor has the medical examiner determined how either man died, but hypothermia is viewed as the most likely cause. According to the Washington Post, many homeless people “had discarded their winter-survival clothes after the warm weekend, confident that spring had finally arrived.”
Though just an inconvenience for many, cold temperatures can be extremely dangerous for those with no shelter. Indeed, life-threatening hypothermia can set in even at temperatures well above freezing. Dozens of homeless people have died this winter from exposure to the elements, from New York to Chicago to California.
“It’s so unfortunate,” Tom Murphy, Director of Communications at Miriam’s Kitchen, a local non-profit dedicated to ending chronic homelessness, told ThinkProgress. “We as a community have to ask some hard questions about whether this is an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ situation.” He went on to note that society is “much more attuned to think of homelessness as a crisis when it’s cold outside, but the truth is that these individuals face on an ongoing danger and vulnerability from so much more than simply the elements.”