May 05, 2016 

By Kishana Flenory, 

Howard University News Service 


Every winter, more than 3.5 billion people are homeless in the U. S., according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.  When the season changes to spring and then summer, the socio-economic, mental health and other conditions afflicting the homeless remain steady.


Therefore, though the issue of homelessness in the warm weather may not seem as dire, those who deal with the needs of the homeless year round say their work continues with the same intensity.


“The temperature outside - whether it’s hot or cold - is not healthy for a person who lives outdoors,” said Megan Hustings, director of the D.C. National Coalition for the Homeless. Hustings said that in either of the extremes, very hot or very cold, a person is subject to illness if they live outside.


The root causes of homelessness must also be dealt with year round, experts said. Whether mental illness, addiction disorders, unemployment, poverty or other situations, each person or family has his or her own story, said John Lozier, executive director of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.


“Homelessness reflects that a lot has gone wrong in a person’s life,” Lozier said. “It could be their personal life or social economic systems.”


Lozier also pointed out that homeless people have the same illnesses as people with homes. However, due to weather conditions, whether cold or poor air quality due to heat or just the stress of living outside, illnesses among the homeless can be three to six times worse than someone with a home, he said.


Despite the care that’s available to the homeless, some shelters are almost as bad as living on the street; regardless of the season, some said.


“The conditions in some of the shelters I have been placed in were terrible,” said Uniqua Johnson, a 30-year-old New York resident.   However, I had nowhere else to go. So, I was forced to stay there.”


Johnson said she was homeless because she was unemployed. With no money to pay rent for an apartment, she ended up on the streets, she said. Now employed, Johnson said she has made it her duty to never end up in a shelter again.


Those who work with homelessness, said it requires the coordination of many levels of society.


The Steward B. McKinney Assistance Act, established by Congress in 1986, aimed to coordinate the federal response to homelessness and to create partnerships between the federal, state, local and private agencies to address homelessness.




Due to local legislation, in some areas - like Washington. and New York - the homeless are required to be accepted into shelters when the temperature drops to 32 degrees or lower, when the wind chill drops below zero degrees, when snow is more than six inches or when ice storms and freezing rain occurs. 


There are many illnesses a homeless person can receive from being outdoors for long periods of time.


During the winter, frostbite and hypothermia, the result of the body temperature being abnormally low, is among the major issues, said David Hornig, a receptionist at Hope Mission in Washington. 


“Frostbite affects a person’s body,” Hornig said.  “Their faces, ears, arms become affected by this illness.”


In the spring, severe issues continue and new issues arise, said the Rev. Joanne Holston, president of the Anchor of Hope for the Homeless ministry at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in D.C.


“During the summer and spring they still need toiletries and they need places to take showers and places to bathe because it’s hot,” Holston said, noting that food and water are also needed year round.


Holston said there is great need for the public to continue to contribute to homeless shelters year round - beyond the drives of Thanksgiving and Christmas.


Sometimes the city issues a “Code Red” meaning no one should be outside due to the heat and poor air quality, she said.


“So even though the weather is nice and they can sleep outside, they still need a place to stay,” she said.   “That’s very crucial.”


Many homeless people are not mentally ill or on drugs, as is often the perception, she said.  Instead, many simply lost their jobs, she said. So, beyond tangible needs, they also need kindness and empathy, she said.


“They need to know that people care and that they’re not looked down upon because homelessness has a different face now,” she said. “They’re not just out there. They’ve had other positions and other lives. And that’s year round.”

Category: Community