How Many More Have To Die?

Posted on December 15, 2011

As you celebrate the holidays in the warmth and comfort of your homes this season, consider this:

57-year-old Billy Clayton of Toms River, NJ was found dead of apparent hypothermia in his makeshift tent last week. 49-year-old Charles Tompkins of Seattle also froze to death. 56-year-old Robert Lester Bunch died of hypothermia in Santa Barbara and was the thirty-first homeless individual to die in that city this year.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH):

“Seven hundred people experiencing or at risk of homelessness are killed from hypothermia annually in the United States. Forty-four percent of the nation’s homeless are unsheltered. From the urban streets of our populated cities to the remote back-country of rural America, hypothermia – or subnormal temperature in the body – remains a leading, critical and preventable cause of injury and death among those experiencing homelessness.”

Each year as winter approaches and the temperatures begin to drop, our country’s homeless population faces the difficult choice of seeking temporary shelter or enduring the bitter cold. On the one hand, shelters lack space & resources during the cold months. Chronically homeless individuals may resist any arrangement that requires them to follow rules or sleep among large groups. Theft of personal belongings is a common complaint. People with mental illness or substance abuse disorders often have difficulty coping in shelter situations. And the underlying causes of their homelessness ultimately are not being adequately addressed.

On the other hand, the average winter temperature in New Jersey is 34 degrees with an average annual snowfall of 23 inches. In Washington State the average temperature in winter is 33 degrees. Although snowfall averages are low in Seattle, it rains an average of 158 days out of the year. And despite Santa Barbara’s relatively mild weather, the past two years have been unusually cold and rainy. When miserable weather conditions are compounded by inadequate clothing, malnutrition, chronic infections, and substance abuse, the susceptibility to hypothermia increases substantially.

Can you imagine being faced with the kinds of choices that homeless individuals have to make every day just to survive?  Virginia Supportive Housing offers a better way. The housing that VSH provides is neither temporary nor transitional. Our tenants sign leases, pay rent, and can stay as long as they wish. And their access to support services allows them to regain their independence and dignity. Don’t we all crave the warmth and comfort that comes from having our own home?

With the onset of winter, hundreds of unsheltered people will die preventable deaths this season. To find out what you can do, click here.

Stability Is A Precious Thing In Life

Posted on August 17, 2010

I have asked Cristina Wood, one of VSH’s fall communications internship candidates, to write this week’s blog on her experiences volunteering at a homeless shelter in Northern Virginia.

I walked in the front door of the shelter like I had been doing every Thursday for the past several months. After waving to Celeste at the front desk, I proceeded upstairs to find the usual children playing with toys or being read to by other volunteers. I scanned the room for Ashley’s big eyes and long brown hair, and listened for her infectious laugh, but she was nowhere to be found. Peeking into the room next door where the children’s mothers were savoring their time to themselves, I was surprised not to be greeted with a mouthful of Spanish from Ashley’s mom that I could never understand, but always appreciated.

I walked back downstairs to Celeste. “Where’s Ashley?” I asked. “Oh, didn’t anyone tell you?” Celeste said with a confused look. “Ashley and her mother have been relocated.” I stared at Celeste speechless for a moment before questions began falling from my mouth. “Relocated? Why? She was here last week! Where is she?” “We can’t give that information out,” Celeste said and instructed me to go back upstairs to help the other children.

Since I began tutoring at this shelter, I had been assigned to Ashley and was able to witness her progress every week. Her English was getting better and her grades in school were improving dramatically. I looked forward to seeing her every week and helping her with her English and math homework. Her mother assured me Ashley loved my visits as well, but suddenly they were both gone forever.

It was then that I began to realize how strenuous it is to live in temporary shelter, where the only constant in your life is change. Ashley was only in second grade, and her mother spoke no English. I was devastated that Ashley had left and I wasn’t even the one that had to deal with the hardships of moving, possibly changing schools, and getting accustomed to a whole new environment. I could only imagine how difficult it was for Ashley and her mom.

Stability is a precious thing in life. Knowing that you have a home, family, or friends to keep you grounded is invaluable and should never be taken for granted. Providing people who are experiencing homelessness with a permanent place to live allows them to work towards getting their lives back on track without worrying where they will sleep next week. It is truly a wonderful thing and this sense of stability has been proven hugely successful through the efforts of Virginia Supportive Housing. I never saw Ashley again, but I hope that she is safe and, if she hasn’t already, that she will find a permanent home which can provide the foundation for her to build the rest of her life.

Subscribe to Our E-Newsletter