No One Should Freeze to Death on the Street. Ever.

You walk out of your office and see him sitting there. You’ve seen him before—sometimes on that same step, sometimes down the block, sitting on the grate. Once in a while, you wave and say hello. Sometimes he responds with a head-nod and a smile. Other times he just stares blankly. You keep walking.

You keep walking, but you can’t get the image of this man, sitting outside in January, out of your mind. It’s freezing. Was he wearing gloves? A hat? You don’t know what to do. You glance down at your phone and click on the weather app. It’s 19 degrees. You shiver and quickly tuck away your phone as your fingers start to go numb. It will only get colder through the night. You worry. Will you see him tomorrow on the grate? Will you see him in the morning on that same step…alive? It’s too cold.

When the temperature reaches below 32 degrees, it is considered hypothermia weather and it is not safe for anyone to be outside for an extended period of time. Hypothermia season brings particular concern for homeless individuals, who often have few options but to stay out in the elements. If you are concerned about an individual during an extreme weather occurrence, please call your local Hypothermia/Shelter Hotline. (For instance, here is information for the DC area.) Depending on your area, hypothermia hotlines can lead to 24/7 services such as transportation to emergency shelters and the distribution of items such as blankets, gloves, and jackets.

Every person that stays outside at night has a different story. Perhaps there are broken ties with family or friends, an influence of addiction or mental health concerns, or maybe he or she is just down on his/her luck. Whatever the story, it should never end with someone freezing to death on the street. Never. You can help by simply entering your local hypothermia hotline in your phone and telling your friends to do the same. If you are concerned about someone out in the cold, make the phone call.

HypoMaureen Burke received her MSW from The Catholic University of America.