Plunging Temperatures Mean One More Night of Shelter for D.C.’s Homeless
Today's weather undoubtedly belongs somewhere on the freakish spectrum, with torrential rains, talk of snow, and a high temperature around 40 degrees above the low. The D.C. Department of Human Services just issued a hypothermia alert, meaning that temperatures with windchill are expected to drop below freezing and the city's legal requirement to provide extreme-weather shelter for any homeless residents in need is triggered.
But a hypothermia alert in mid-April—just one day after a 80-degree weather, no less—actually isn't so freakish. Last year, according to DHS, the last hypothermia alert was issued on April 23.
Still, tonight's alert could pose a greater challenge to the city's homeless services operations. D.C.'s population of homeless families swelled this winter, forcing the city to resort to the use of motel rooms and then recreation centers to house families, with the traditional shelters maxed out. On March 24, a judge ordered the city to stop using rec centers, despite threats from a District lawyer that the city would not be able to find other shelter spaces. The city was able to locate enough available motel rooms to house the rec-center families for the few remaining hypothermic nights.
For the past couple of weeks, those families have had to fend for themselves. Tonight, some or most of them are likely to head to the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center to apply for shelter once again.
The forecast shows warmer weather over the next 10 days, although tomorrow night's anticipated low of 37 degrees may be enough, with windchill, to trigger another alert. After that, we're likely to be in the clear—a relief for the city's homeless services administrators, but perhaps not for homeless residents themselves, who have at times had to root for cold weather in order to land a bed for the night.
Tonight, they'll get that bed.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery