Here’s what you need to know about homelessness in the wintertime

Dec. 8, 2017

On any given night, there are around 500,000 people experiencing homelessness across the United States, according to a 2016 federal count.

But that may not reflect the real extent of people experiencing homelessness, said Megan Hustings, interim director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

We know that [the true] number is much higher.

— Megan Hustings, National Coalition for the Homeless

It doesn’t even have to be that cold to become dangerous.

You can get hypothermia in as warm as 50 degrees.

— Megan Hustings, National Coalition for the Homeless

A 2010 National Coalition for the Homeless report found that 700 people experiencing or at risk for homelessness from hypothermia each year.

So why don’t people just go to shelters?

First of all, there aren’t enough shelter beds in the U.S. for the number of people who need them, Hustings said.

Rules about ages, gender segregation or bans on pets may keep some people from going to shelters.

Instead, they may stay outdoors, risking their health.

So what can you do to help fight homelessness in your community this winter?

One method Hustings suggested is to fight local laws that criminalize homelessness, like bans on panhandling or camping in certain areas.

Advocate for legislation to provide more social services or donate money or time, Hustings said. And, she added, remember that “everyone is a person.”

If you see someone on the street, even just saying hello can mean a lot.

Those small interactions can really make a huge difference in someone’s life. … Don’t ignore folks.

— Megan Hustings, National Coalition for the Homeless