Helping the Homeless Weather The Cold

By Jim Greene
Emergency Shelter Commission, Boston Public Health Commission

In this season of extreme cold weather and wind chills in the single digits, it is more important than ever that everyone remains vigilant to help the most vulnerable among us. Hypothermia and frost-bite set in extremely quickly at sub-freezing temperatures, and homeless people are at greater risk than the average person with less complicated health needs.

The Boston Public Health Commission’s (BPHC) Emergency Shelter Commission (ESC) coordinates the efforts of a citywide network of emergency shelters, outreach providers, city agencies and first responders to assist the homeless. The Commission also provides resources and a warm bed for Boston’s homeless all year round at the Long Island and Woods Mullen shelters, but the needs are even greater at this time of year.

Boston Emergency Medical Service, a division of BPHC, patrols for homeless at risk of hypothermia and often arranges transportation to shelters.

So what can YOU do to help ensure the safety and well-being of the homeless in our city?

1. If you see what you think may be a medical or safety emergency, please call 9-1-1 (from a landline) or 617-343-4911 (from a cell phone). Examples may include people who are not appropriately dressed for the cold, those having difficulty walking or speaking clearly, or people in unsafe, unheated, or other precarious locations that should be checked on.

If it’s not an emergency, but you wish to make a location frequented by homeless person(s) known to the Emergency Shelter Commission, please call the Mayor’s 24 Hour Service Help Line at 617-635-4500. Be as specific as you can about the address, location, and any persons in need. The Mayor’s Office will forward that information to the ESC.

2. To stay warm and safe, many homeless individuals rely on the generosity of the community to ensure critically-needed items are in supply throughout the year.

To help immediately by making a donation, please contact a volunteer services coordinator at (617) 534-6108 for drop-off locations or more information. You can also start a donation drive in your workplace, apartment building, or other common area, which will spread awareness and allow more community members to become involved in our mission.

Donated items can be new or gently-used and must be in clean, usable condition. We are especially in need of adult men’s and women’s:

• Toiletries of any size
• T-shirts, Socks, Underwear
• Suits, Dress shirts,
• Thermal Wear, Coats
• Hats, Gloves, Scarves
• Pants, Jeans
• Sweatshirts, Sweaters
• Sneakers, Dress shoes
• Winter boots, Work Boots
• Duffle bags, Backpacks, Briefcases
• Umbrellas, Raincoats

Jim Greene is Director of Boston’s Emergency Shelter Commission.

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