So far this winter, we’ve been fortunate. Even without snowfall, winter in New England is anything but a wonderland to those experiencing homelessness.
For those sleeping in overnight shelters, morning means getting back out on the streets. For those sleeping rough on a park bench or over a heating grate, morning likely means that someone will be coming by to tell them to move along. In both cases, people have to pack up their belongings and find someplace to get in out of the elements.
Even though this winter has been relatively kind to us so far, at least weather-wise, we can’t count on our luck lasting. With so much winter and cold rain still ahead of us, we know that there’ll be plenty of below-freezing days and nights to come. Hypothermia can kick when the temperature starts hovering around 32 degrees.
Judy, Guest Services Manager, tells us, “As the temperatures fall and the wind begins to pick up speed, those that find themselves sleeping outside have a great fear of what cold weather can cause: dehydration, hypothermia, frostbite, uncontrollable shivers, and more. Cold weather is not only dangerous for individuals experiencing homelessness, but it can be deadly.”
The pandemic has, of course, made things worse for many of those who call the street “home.” They may be more reluctant to go into an overnight shelter, and being worn down makes us all more susceptible to illness. Psychologically, stress is running high.
Fortunately, for those in need of a place to come in out of the cold, the doors at St. Francis House are open every single day.
“At the day shelter, we try and support our guests by offering much-needed items like hats, socks, comfortable jeans, sturdy shoes, blankets, sweatshirts, and more. Having access to clean, warm clothing is important during the cold weather, the snow and rain cause clothing to become wet and without a dry change of clothes, the results can be devastating. We are always connecting guests in need with warm, winter clothing throughout the winter season, which in New England can sometimes extend through May!” Judy continues.
While the pandemic has changed our clothing routine – we are no longer accepting used donations, and the department no longer holds daily “shopping” hours – we are still able to provide our guests with what they need. We keep a supply of winter basics – socks, gloves, hats, scarves, thermal underwear – on hand for the asking, many that have been stocked thanks to supporters of our Amazon Wishlist. We have winter coats for those without, or whose coats are so worn out they no longer provide much by way of warmth or protection. Footwear is always in demand, and we work hard to make sure we can provide sturdy shoes or boots to those who find themselves without.
In addition to emergency clothing, guests can come into St. Francis House for a wide variety of resources – a cup of coffee, something to eat, a clean mask. They’re welcome to take a shower, work on a computer, watch the news, and just plain sit, warm up, and relax. On the 2nd floor, the Boston Health Care for the Homeless clinic is available to treat any medical issues resulting from the cold weather.
Whatever our guests look to us for, they know that they’ll be welcome with care, respect, and a smile, whatever the temperature, whatever the weather.