For the homeless of America and the rest of the world, the winter can be a trying and even terrifying time of year. In winter, temperatures plummet and the usual dangers of living on the street are amplified; the homeless face cold-related threats such as hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia alone kills 700 homeless individuals a year in the U.S., according to the National Coalition for the Homeless website. Addressing a number of homeless individuals' needs helps save lives in winter.
Adequate clothing is needed to protect against not only cold temperatures, but also the wind and precipitation commonly encountered in winter time. These types of weather reduce the perceived temperature in an area. If a homeless person gets wet and is wearing soaked clothes as a result, he will suffer a 20-fold increase in heat loss. Such clothing can also increase an individual's chances of contracting frostbite. So homeless people need proper clothing to prepare them for winter weather. Such garments include mittens that stop the skin from becoming wet, hats to prevent body heat loss, dry clothes to change into and plenty of layers to protect against the cold.
As winter comes and temperature drops, homeless people become more vulnerable than usual if they don't have anywhere to go, especially at night. Many cities have homeless shelters but these quickly become full, while other sources of shelter end up turning individuals away during the day, when winter weather can still be harsh. On the streets, homeless individuals without shelter are at risk from conditions relating to hypothermia and exposure. Homeless charities and advocacy organizations frequently call for shelters to be more frequently available and increased in number.
If conditions such as hypothermia have already set in, homeless people require emergency medical supplies; these might include medications that can be administered at a homeless shelter or a stay in hospital. Just recognizing the symptoms of hypothermia, which include drowsiness and slurred speech, can make all the difference in a homeless person receiving appropriate care. Homeless individuals may also require items such as high-energy foods and caffeinated fluids in wintry conditions.
Homeless people require food that may not always be readily available. Food is especially important during the winter months, however. Not only will a regular warm meal help to provide the essential nutrients the human body needs, but it helps to prevent malnutrition, a risk factor that can contribute towards hypothermia.
- "The Health Care of Homeless Persons: A Manual of Communicable Diseases & Common Problems in Shelters & on the Streets"; Accidental Hypothermia & Frostbite; James J. O'Connell; 2004
- National Coalition for the Homeless; Winter Homeless Services: Bringing Our Neighbors in from the Cold; 2010
- CNN; In winter, some homeless choose between independence, warmth; Jason Hanna; January 8, 2010
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