Winter cold snaps — an inconvenience for most — are an existential threat to people with no shelter.
This was tragically on display last month, when at least five homeless people froze to death in a single week. Even in generally-warmer areas of the country like California, at least seven homeless people died from cold weather late last fall.
When temperatures drop, many cities take extra precautions to try to get homeless people out of the cold and into shelter. For example, between November 1 and March 31, Washington D.C. mandates that any homeless person who seeks it be given shelter when temperatures fall below 32 degrees (with wind chill).
However, a survey by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) found stark disparities in the temperatures at which different cities will declare a hypothermia alert and provide additional shelter for the homeless — with no good medical explanation.
The most accommodating cities are Denver, Berkeley, and Mobile, all of which set their threshold at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. (Still, because hypothermia can set in at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, even this level is dangerous for people who have no shelter.) The most restrictive city identified by NCH is Baltimore, which waits until temperatures drop to 13 degrees Fahrenheit (with wind chill) before opening its winter shelters:
“Lives are saved when communities open additional shelters during spells of cold weather,” NCH’s Director of Community Organizing Michael Stoops told ThinkProgress. “Keeping shelters open all winter long and not just when the temperature drops below a certain threshold would be the best way to help the homeless community get through the cold weather season.”