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.

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