When the cold strikes, volunteers, concerned citizens and city officials hit the streets looking for the homeless.
In Washington, D.C., this week the temperature dropped to a low of 6 degrees, the coldest since 1996.
Salvation Army Area Command Major Major Lewis Reckline said he really starts to worry when the weather dips toward the freezing point. The Salvation Army runs a nightly program known as “grate patrol,” where volunteers go out on the streets checking on the homeless, providing food and handing out blankets.
“We see people along the streets of D.C. who sleep on a bench or stuff like that,” Reckline said. “You can only imagine how cold they must be.”
Despite the frigid weather, some homeless people choose to stay on the streets, passing on the chance to stay in emergency shelters. Llewellyn McIntyre, an outreach worker for the United Planning Organization Shelter Hotline, tries to reach those people on the coldest nights.
“A lot of times it’s fear of the shelters,” he said. “Some of them may have had a bad experience at the shelter where they got their personal possessions stolen, and the other challenge is mental health.”
McIntyre is in his second season working for the Shelter Hotline, driving a van from one side of the city to the other. He spends his night checking under piles of blankets for signs of life, passing out warm clothes and transporting people to city shelters.
“You’re most worried about that person that’s hard to find. And they may not make it, because it is one of the most unfortunate things about the job that happens,” said McIntyre.
Despite the fear, he said that we’re “fortunate as a city.”
“We had a lot of that last night, concerned citizens coming out, passing out comfort items,” he said. “It was a big help to us and the people we serve.”
Geneva Sands is a Washington, D.C.-based producer/editor focused on national affairs and politics. Egg creams, Raleigh and pie are three of her favorite things.