Helping the Homeless in Winter

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Helping the Homeless in Winter

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Although those of us who live in the North know that our winters are no joke, areas in the Midwest (Chicago especially) have been experiencing some abnormally harsh winter weather this year. The ‘Polar Vortex’ hit some areas with recorded temperatures reaching -23 degrees, with wind chills reaching -49! With these kinds of temperatures, the homeless community suffers immensely. Issues of homelessness affect both rural and urban areas, with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in 2017 there were approximately 554,000 people across the nation who were homeless; and that number is expected to rise. Given these numbers, there is no excuse not to help; this is a problem that we need to pay attention to. There are already dozens of homeless people being found frozen to death while simply sleeping outside. Others are found with severe frostbite; it’s scary to think about how fast exposure and frostbite can happen, along with how long homeless men, women, and children are out and exposed to it almost daily. Being from Los Angeles, I’ve seen a lot of different things there, including homeless people on nearly every corner. When I think about similar numbers in other major cities, like Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York, and the extreme cold they are suffering, I know that this is something that should raise speculation on what we, as a country can do to help. Here are some ideas which any one of us can do right now, while here at SVC:

 

  • Donate warm clothes and supplies

 

Donating your unwanted clothes or buying clothes for people who are less fortunate goes a long way by helping those who are not as well-off as others.  Basic necessities such as coats, blankets, 

sleeping bags, clothing, socks and shoes are huge blessings for those people who receive them. Donations of food and hygiene products are always needed also. You can help by contacting the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless at (802) 442-2424 or visit their website at http://www.bcchvt.org/about-us/. They gladly accept donations as one time gift, or you can become a monthly sponsor. The shelters also offer their donors to “sponsor” some of their nights they are open. Even if students don’t have that much money to donate  just on their own, maybe they could gather a group of friends to all donate together or start a fundraiser and give the proceeds to the local shelter.

  • Call shelter hotlines

In the larger cities in the U.S. there are hotlines numbers such as 311 that will reach out to shelters who can take someone for the night, so they aren’t forced to sleep on the street during the coldest times of year and risk their lives. As a student and active resident in the community, you can absolutely make an impact through helping others. If you’re in Bennington and see that someone needs assistance, you can reach out to the homeless shelter number listed above. If you find yourself in the city over a weekend and see a homeless person in need, dial 211 or 311 and try to help them. If a homeless person is a Veteran, there is a seperate hotline just for Veteran support services that will help them also, which is (877) 424-3838. By doing something as simple as dialing a 

number to reach out to these services, that’s obviously an action to feel good about, and more importantly could end up saving a life.

  • Handout care packages with necessities

Anyone can appreciate a care package, especially a homeless person during the tougher months. Some people even carry multiple packages with them around town, which they distribute to a homeless person if they encounter them. Because some homeless people refuse to go to shelters or can’t make it to one before they become full, care packages containing some snacks, water or other drinks, clean socks, a little bit of money and other any other supplies someone is gracious enough to put together for them can make their night that much easier.

  • Direct people to shelters

Now that almost everyone has a smartphone with GPS in their pocket, it doesn’t take much effort to direct someone to the nearest shelter if they’re not sure where one is. Paying attention to things in your community is so important, and caring about others in need is part of that. So the next time you see a homeless person in need, and especially if they are suffering through the cold winter, don’t lose that opportunity to change or even save someone’s life.

 

 

Photos belong to bcchvt.org, thechicsite, and Washington Post.